Windmill controversy resumes amid updates to municipal development plan

·3 min read

A decade-old issue is rearing its head once again now that changes to the MD of Pincher Creek’s municipal development plan are entering the final stage of review.

The document’s policy on wind energy development has drawn criticism from residents living between Pincher Creek and Beaver Mines, who have long been opposed to the impacts the industry could have on the environment and local quality of life.

MD council received more than 30 letters of complaint regarding windmill policy, which were included in a council package made available online before the MDP public hearing on Sept. 2.

The final draft of the MDP will be made available Oct. 12.

“As an Airbnb owner we constantly hear how beautiful the area is. People book to come back, not just for skiing, but to visit the Castle Provincial Park, Waterton National Park, Beauvais Lake Provincial Park and the surrounding area,” wrote Morgan and Colleen Brady.

“If this wind farm development is approved it will negatively impact tourism. People come to the area to escape the sight of industry in the city and take advantage of the beautiful landscape that we are happy to share.”

Of particular concern is the Castle Meridian wind power project, managed by Calgary-based Clem Geo-Energy Corp. The company plans to build four wind turbines just west of Pincher Creek and north of Highway 507, and residents in the area are worried it could alter the scenic mountain view.

Although the MDP does not indicate support for the development of windmills in that specific area, it does look favourably upon industry growth in general. Some residents are concerned this lack of specification creates ambiguity, making it easier for windmill companies to set up business anywhere without repercussions.

“In my view, there is not enough specific direction as to what is and what is not suitable for wind energy development,” wrote local resident Cornell Van Ryk.

Updates were last made to the MDP in 2008 and MD council had then considered putting a land-use bylaw in place to establish wind energy exclusion zones, but it was never implemented due to issues with property rights.

The latest MDP bylaws impose certain limitations to wind energy facilities operating near residential areas. They must be set back at least 4,000 metres from Pincher Creek and Cowley airports and must make use of auto-dimming to reduce nighttime glare.

The plan emphasizes the need for public input and stresses the importance of considering residents' concerns in the planning phase, including impact on visual landscape and facility spacing and location.

The MD went through an analysis process called the Municipal Land Use Suitability Tool, where council members were asked to place value on various land-use concerns. The results will be used by developers to understand the issue of conflicting land space.

Garry Marchuk, candidate for MD council in Division 3, says these policies are not enough.

He submitted a letter on behalf of Beaver Mines Community Association, urging council to consider limiting windmill development in the area to preserve the scenic view.

Marchuk also specified that he would like to see the decommissioning of obsolete or abandoned windmills made a requirement in the plan, rather than a suggestion.

Going forward, he says he would like to see MD council engage in more community consultation, speaking with residents rather than only with ratepayers.

Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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