BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: Despite an unsuccessful attempt at appealing a solar farm slated for an agricultural property in Greenbank, Scugog Township - along with a local resident - have launched separate appeals of a similar development proposed for a Shirley Rd. property, citing the agricultural and environmental significance of the lands in question.
The appeal by the township was announced during a rare summer meeting of Scugog Council on July 10, during which councillors opted to appeal the 10 MW solar development, slated for a parcel of land south of Port Perry.
Earlier this year, the township launched and then subsequently dropped an appeal of Solray's Cragg Rd. solar farm, after it was determined that for the appeal to have succeeded, the township would have had to meet a very specific test, pertaining to whether a given development 'will cause serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment,' as described by the MOE in the notice of the preliminary hearing.
Although changes to the provincial Green Energy Act in 2012 have since prevented solar and wind energy projects from being constructed on farmland zoned for non-agricultural purposes at the municipal level, both developments were awarded Ontario Power Authority contracts prior to the changes, exempting the projects from the amendments.
The Shirley Rd. development, initially proposed by Skypower Limited, has since switched hands to Canadian Solar Inc.
The appeals are expected to be heard in early August.
According to Mayor Chuck Mercier, council is moving forward with the appeal on the grounds of potential negative impacts from the development on the property, which contains a number of environmentally-sensitive features including wetlands, forest and savannah.
"The property has a number of environmentally significant and agricultural features," said the mayor, "whereas the farm in Greenbank was about the agricultural designation. With that property, we appealed and then, on legal advice, entered into negotiations - with Purple Hill, we don't know what to expect. The municipality has been very firm with the province that we are not in favour of where this development is."
Canadian Solar spokesperson Suzanne Wilson declined to comment on the appeals.
The development has previously drawn criticism from local residents living in the vicinity of the proposed facility, some of whom have formed a citizens' group known as the Purple Hill Preservation Alliance (PHPA).
While the group has stated that it supports the partial use of the land in question (which overlaps the provincial Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine) for agricultural purposes, it hopes to also see it preserved for local water supplies and wildlife, including three endangered species sighted in the vicinity - the Bobolink songbird, the whip-poor-will and the Stinkpot turtle.
According to the PHPA, the solar farm will impact wildlife by acting as a barrier to natural migration routes, as well as through light pollution from security lights.
Jacqueline Visconti of the PHPA, who launched the private appeal with the support of a number of residents and environmental groups, said that while she is not opposed to solar energy projects, she wishes to see the project stayed until a number of issues pertaining to the environmental features are resolved, adding that the setbacks from the environmentally-sensitive lands as currently proposed are not enough and in some cases, reduced, from the original plan.
"It's right there in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan," said Ms. Visconti of the required setbacks. "It's very strange that these developments are allowed to go through like that. There's nothing in it for me, but if you alter the water flow, the plants and animals could die off."
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