Sandy Bay Road residents oppose solar project
By Chad Ingram
Published Oct. 27, 2016
A group of Gull Lake residents from Sandy Bay Road south of Minden say they’re opposed to a solar project proposed for the area.
As reported previously in the Times, Abundant Solar Energy has submitted a number of applications for projects in Minden Hills under the latest round of the province’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program.
One of those applications is for a small-FIT project – up to five acres in size – to be located across the street from nearly 30 waterfront properties along Sandy Bay Road.
According to the company, the actual solar panel array would occupy closer to 3.6 acres and a vegetative buffer would prevent residents from seeing the panels.
“The way we look at it, that’s going to be a 20-year marriage and you best have good relations,” Abundant’s vice-president of business development Melissa Clark told Minden Hills councillors during a September meeting. “None of the properties along the waterfront would actually see the array.”
She said the only property that might get a glimpse is located directly to the east of the proposed site.
Sandy Bay Road resident Andy Gallagher doesn’t believe the public notification process around proposed solar projects is thorough enough and has concerns about the proposed project’s impact on the landscape.
“It is my understanding that only a limited number of residents may be aware of the project and the process by which a significant change to the landscape could occur,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “I certainly was not aware of the proposed project and its proximity to my property, and I suspect many others, particularly seasonal residents, are not aware of it either.”
While supportive of renewable energy projects in general, Gallagher doesn’t believe a location so close to the lake is suitable for a solar installation.
“Even relatively small solar projects are extremely unsightly and have a very detrimental impact on the makeup and beauty of the landscape,” he wrote. “There are certain locations where this negative impact is less important and therefore more suitable for these installations. However, the shores of Gull Lake is not one of these locations, and building a five-acre power generation site within such close proximity to the lake and lakeside properties seems unconscionable to me. The beauty of the lake and surrounding landscape is what brings visitors to the area, creates a peaceful and natural environment and supports cottage and home property values. No matter how well it is designed, a project of this size will be impossible to keep from view from neighbouring properties and likely the lake itself, particularly in the fall through early spring period when there is a lack of natural foliage.”
Gull Lake falls within the jurisdiction of Minden Hills Ward 2 Councillor Pam Sayne, who also chairs the township’s renewable energy task force.
Municipal councils have no final authority on FIT installations, which are ultimately approved or denied by the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). Applicants do receive “priority points” in the IESO’s review process by getting support resolutions from municipal councils, but a project’s approval is not contingent upon municipal support.
A number of projects in Minden Hills that did not receive support from council were passed by the IESO during the previous round of the FIT program.
“My concern is this top-down approach creates divisiveness between neighbours,” said Sayne, who believes the approval process for renewable energy projects should be absorbed into the Ontario Planning Act. “I think it should be under the planning act. Then municipalities have some idea or distinction about what they want to see.”
Last year, Minden Hills township created its renewable energy task force, which created a renewable energy policy, a framework through which the township could judge the merit of proposed projects for the consideration of support.
The task force discussed the Sandy Bay Road project during a lengthy meeting on Oct. 14, which Sayne said drew several residents.
“We had a room full of people,” she said. “It became more of a town hall if you will. We did it like a roundtable.”
Ultimately, the task of making a recommendation based on the township’s policy was left to planner Ian Clendening and was scheduled to be discussed during the Oct. 27 meeting of Minden Hills council.