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February 22, 2009

Ontario to fast-track wind turbine projects

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Ontario municipalities will lose the power to decide how close wind turbines can be to residential properties and environmentally sensitive areas under proposed green-energy legislation being tabled Monday.

The new rules, a blow to NIMBYism (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard), will also ensure that developers of wind and other renewable-energy projects get construction permits within six months.

It's all part of Ontario's plan to streamline approvals for such projects, create certainty for developers and attract more investments that will create green-collar jobs in the province – more than 50,000 jobs over three years.

Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, speaking yesterday at the Toronto Board of Trade, said the patchwork of municipal guidelines that has evolved over the years has created a cumbersome process for energy developers. He compared it to the patchwork of municipal rules regarding public smoking before the province created an Ontario-wide standard. Similarly, the proposed Green Energy Act will create a provincial standard for wind turbine sites and a "one-window, one-permit" approach to approvals.

"I see municipalities grappling, struggling, with how to balance the desire of local wind proponents against the desire of some local residents," Smitherman said in an interview. "A patchwork quilt is not the best way forward."

The setback distance for turbines – how far they must be from a home – will be determined through consultation with the public and the environment ministry. Possible distances will be discussed next week.

Other items expected to be in the proposed legislation:

The province's Standard Offer Program, which sets standard pricing for electricity from small renewable energy projects, has been scrapped. It will be replaced by a more ambitious program that accommodates wind, biomass, hydroelectric and solar projects.

Homeowners will soon have access to direct grants and low-interest loans to help pay for technology and appliances that make their homes more energy efficient.

New policies will support co-operatives of farmers, homeowners and businesses that want to invest in renewable-energy projects.

The province will also stimulate development of offshore wind farms on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes with the aim of pursuing power-purchase contracts with developers.

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