upper photo: A slogan used in a campaign to protest a solar farm on agricultural land was painted on the roof of a barn on the property slated for the development.
lower photo: Chris Young, general manager of Enfinity Canada, the company that owns the property, says windows were broken as well as bricks and fixtures removed at the property's farmhouse.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
An investigation of vandalism at an eastern Ontario property designated for solar development has so far turned up no witnesses, leads or suspects.
“Because of a lack of witnesses and a lack of leads, the investigation is ongoing but it has not been progressing as we would have liked,” says Hawkesbury OPP spokesperson Const. Pierre Dubois.
The detachment’s crime unit is investigating incidents that took place on the company’s property in East Hawkesbury in recent months.
Chris Young, general manager of Enfinity Canada, says he first saw damage on the property in September.
Hardest hit was the farmhouse. Fixtures were removed, windows broken and bricks torn off.
Dubois says damages have been pegged at more than $25,000. Mischief (the category vandalism falls under in the Canadian Criminal Code) exceeding $5,000 in damage is an indictable offence that can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
“We had somebody looking to buy the house and move it and now we can’t do that,” Young says.
Young contacted police on Oct. 16.
“We sat on it for a little bit to see if there was any further activity,” explains Young. He says he decided to call the police after other incidents took place. He explains those resulted in damage to other parts of the property along the lines of what happened to the house. He confirms that vandals having painted the words “Solar not on prime farmland” in block print on the roof of a barn, was one of these later incidents.
He won’t comment on possible suspects because of the OPP investigation.
Dubois says other than the graffiti on the barn and the damage to the house, no other damage was detailed on the police report. He notes the OPP were told that the house was supposed to be used as an office while construction took place.
The proposal to locate the solar farm on 300 acres in East Hawkesbury, an hour’s drive southeast of Ottawa, sparked local controversy. The situation also fueled protests by provincial farm groups against using prime agricultural land for solar farms.
East Hawkesbury’s council suspended the project for a year to study the issue. The Ontario Municipal Board struck down the suspension in May. In June, the Board approved the developer’s zoning request amendment, site plan application and land severance plan.
The province has subsequently passed legislation that bans solar farm development on most agricultural land, but Young says it won’t apply to the East Hawkesbury project. He explains that the project was approved under the Ontario Power Authority’s former renewable energy standard offer program. The new legislation applies to the program’s replacement: the feed-in tariff program.
The farm will generate 30 megawatts of power, enough to supply 5,400 homes. Construction begins in April 2010. June 2011 is the goal for completion.
Enfinity Canada, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Enfinity, bought the project’s developer, Solaris Energy Partners Inc., in September.
Asked why he thought the incidents took place, Young responded that the slogans found on the property had appeared in media covering the issue in the past.
“I think in general it’s unfortunate that it (response to the development) has taken this tone,” he says. “This is an entirely legal project,” that has received all of the appropriate government approvals. “Our concern is the fact that there are people out there that have taken it upon themselves to tell us what to do with the land that we own; I don’t have the same ability to dictate what others do with their land.”
Dubois says the nature of the damage suggests opponents of the solar development were involved.
He says in incidents of mischief, the longer the lapse between when it occurs and is reported, the “less likely the percentages are for us to solve this.” Nevertheless, “there’s still a good chance” of solving this incident, he says.
He points out that from the damage, “it looks like there would be more than one person involved.” When there is more than one person involved, chances of solving the crime become greater because “people have a tendency to talk, to brag.”
Dubois says police did receive a call from a nearby property owner who had heard rumours of plans to damage his property. Police are increasing patrols in the area and have advised the resident on how to secure his property.
“But again, emotions are high – regarding farmland and all of that; all kinds of rumours are circulating,” he says, adding the caller’s concerns were linked to the solar development. Dubois says police reports do not disclose the nature of the resident’s connection.
Young says neither he nor the original developers have received threats.
He says security measures, including fencing and security cameras will be in place once the facility is running. BF