IRAC quashes local ruling, paving way for Eastern Kings wind farm expansion
The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission has issued a ruling that clears the way for the expansion of a controversial wind farm in Eastern Prince Edward Island.
It has quashed a decision by the Rural Municipality of Eastern Kings to turn down a proposal from the P.E.I. Energy Corporation, a provincial Crown corporation, to add a second phase to the wind farm in the municipality.
Back in 2019, the province said it wanted to add seven wind turbines to develop a new 30-megawatt wind farm south of the existing power site in the East Point area northeast of Souris.
Officials said the new site would generate about eight per cent of the Island's electricity, helping cut the province's greenhouse gas emissions.
But the municipality denied the application, raising concerns about the size and scale of the project.
In its April 28 decision, IRAC sent the issue back to council, saying councillors had made a procedural error by failing to provide reasons for turning down the province's application.
It also criticized the municipality for not consulting with a land use planner before making its October 2020 decision to deny the application.
"The council of this small community, while well intentioned, had no expertise in dealing with the type of information before them, and made no effort to engage any planning experts to assist in their analysis," the ruling said.
IRAC said the $18,200 application fee Eastern Kings accepted from the province could have been used to hire a planner, but instead: "Nothing was done."
'We're looking to build them'
Environment, Energy and Climate Action Minister Steven Myers welcomed the IRAC ruling. He'd like to negotiate a compromise with the community — but will not rule out going it alone without the local government's approval for the new turbines.
"What I'll say is we're looking for compromise, but we're looking to build them," Myers said.
"Everyone is feeling the same pinch," he added. "You go to build renewable energy and there's backlash from the community, and it holds up government's ability to deliver on some of their commitments."
Although the IRAC ruling sent the issue back to the Eastern Kings council, it also said the province could choose to sidestep local governments altogether in cases such as this.
"It always remains open to the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations under the Renewable Energy Act to regulate the development of this renewable energy generation facility, and others," the ruling said.
It pointed out that the municipality's own lawyer had said during closing submissions: "[The] legislature has the ability to displace the role of council and put decisions about where wind turbines should be placed in the hands of the province."
Myers says the province isn't looking to be heavy-handed in its approach, and would prefer to have the buy-in of municipalities for major projects.
We have to put the entirety of Prince Edward Island at the forefront of decision making and we want to make sure the lights stay on everywhere. — Steven Myers
But, he added: "We have to put the entirety of Prince Edward Island at the forefront of decision making and we want to make sure the lights stay on everywhere."
Of the Eastern Kings situation, Myers said: "We're looking at where we can compromise, and if that compromise will work for the community."
The minister said that could involve not just the placement of the turbines and size of the wind farm, but "what are we doing financially."
St. Catherines resident Fred Cheverie, one of the intervenors in the IRAC proceedings, told CBC News that he was "disappointed in their decision."
He had argued the existing wind farm had "negatively affected the quality of life in the community" and called the new project's environmental impact statement "woefully inadequate."
On Friday, he said the ruling was unnecessarily critical of the municipality's elected officials, and could deter other people from offering to serve.
"So that bothers me if that's the way our province is going to do things," he said. "They're going about it the wrong way."
He still insists that the project will be an "environmental disaster" in terms of its effect on migratory birds and local wetlands.
No resources to appeal?
In a statement issued after the IRAC ruling, Rural Municipality of Eastern Kings said a new mayor and mostly new council have been elected since the matter was last considered, so it will take time for them to understand the background of the case and the issues involved.
Both sides have 20 days to appeal, but Eastern Kings Mayor Larry Fitzpatrick told CBC News the municipality has no resources to appeal IRAC's decision.
Myers said one thing isn't in doubt: The energy produced by the new turbines is badly needed.
"There's major gaps in energy production in all parts of the world now … with electrification and the growing populations that we're seeing. There's a bigger demand for electricity everywhere."
Myers said the province would like to begin site work on the new turbines this year.