© AgMedia Inc.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Over six months, Chatham-Kent council approved two proposals for solar farms, one on agricultural land, without getting feedback from the municipality’s agricultural community.
A local group wants to make sure it won’t happen again.
“Agriculture just doesn’t want to be left out,” says Alice Uher, president of the Kent Federation of Agriculture and a spokesperson for the Chatham-Kent Unified Farm Voice.
The Unified Farm Voice is made up of the executives of the local general farm organizations. They have joined to create a greater farm community impact at the municipal level as well as with area federal and provincial politicians.
Failure to consult farm groups on the solar projects is an example of why the Unified Farm Voice is needed and why it recently approached the municipality to be formally recognized as the local agricultural community’s representative.
“We want to make sure we have proper input,” on solar and other issues, says Uher.
Farm groups are resisting proposals to locate solar farms on agricultural land near Hawkesbury east of Ottawa, and near Belmont, south of London. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture objects to solar projects on good farmland but supports solar farm establishment in other locations.
Chatham-Kent approved a 10 megawatt farm, capable of powering 1,500 homes, on 87 acres southeast of Ridgetown and a five megawatt farm to be located on 150 acres of unoccupied industrial land in Tilbury. Photos show it has recently grown crops.
Uher says the Unified Farm Voice does not object to the Tilbury project, spearheaded by OptiSolar Farms Canada Inc. and approved on Monday, but would like to have been consulted. Even though it’s on industrial lands, the project could set precedents with implications for agriculture, she says.
Uher says the group wasn’t notified about the Ridgetown project, proposed by SkyPower Corp. and approved by council in November, 2008.
Chatham-Kent’s official plan lacks a solar power policy, municipal reports about the projects note. The report accompanying the SkyPower proposal states that a zoning adjustment won’t remove the lands’ agricultural designation but will “add special policies that would permit their use for the development of the solar energy system.”
Municipal rules about solar farms may become moot if a green energy bill passes in Queen’s Park. The bill proposes to limit municipalities’ ability to approve green energy projects, explains Ralph Pugliese, Chatham-Kent’s director of planning services.
He adds that if Chatham-Kent develops a planning policy on solar developments, the Unified Farm Voice would be contacted, “most definitely.” Pugliese says he would have contacted the group in connection with the two proposals had he known of its interest.
The group would have been made aware of the projects through media coverage and could have contacted the municipality, he adds.
Uher agrees that the group had some responsibility for contacting the municipality but says it wasn’t developed enough last year to give feedback about the SkyPower proposal. She says the group needs formal notification of such projects so it can meet the deadlines for feedback.
“We’re certainly making it known that we do expect to be contacted on future projects such as this for comment.” BF