Solar farm opponents unhappy with forum

HAWKESTONE, ONTARIO - Recurrent Energy's final public meeting on its proposed Hawkestone solar panel project left some residents wanting more.

"We came here to have a meeting tonight and there's no public forum," Peter Galloway, a long-time resident of Oro-Medonte Township, said. "We walk around and are getting talked to."

The meeting, held at the Oro-Medonte Township arena, marked the last public meeting required by the San Francisco-based power producer in its renewable energy application REA process for its proposed 75-acre solar panel project on Line 13 North.

Some residents in attendance were angry that the meeting wasn't a formal public consultation with meaningful debate. Instead, there were approximately 20 information boards detailing the 75-acre Orillia 2 project with representatives from Recurrent Energy standing at each one to answer questions.

Bernard Pope, founder of Ontario Farmland Preservation, who came prepared with a list of questions for Recurrent Energy, wondered what anyone would gain from the meeting.

"We're getting a whole whack of monologues. There was no real dialogue here except for individual discussions," Pope said. "We were hoping to have some constructive discussion tonight with these people and they have come with their strategists."

Sixty days ago, Recurrent Energy made available dozens of reports, such as an environmental impact studies and noise assessment studies, online and through the township as part of the REA process.

"The purpose of the meeting today really is to give folks the chance to come in and ask questions about those reports and understand what living next to these solar panel projects or driving by one of them will mean to them," Bob Leah, Recurrent Energy's director of development Canada, said.

Galloway and Pope were hoping to ask their questions in a public forum so that others could benefit from the answers.

"Here, all we're doing is chit-chatting with people," Galloway said.

He added that the first public meeting, held in an open question-and-answer format, was a learning curve for many residents because none of the reports on the project were finished. Now that the reports are available and he knows more of the specifics, he feels as if he doesn't have a voice to express his concerns.

But Leah said that although this was the final public meeting, there are still a lot of steps to complete before the Orillia 2 project gets the green light.

The next step is to take the comments heard at the public meeting and consolidate them into a consultation report that will be presented to the Ministry of the Environment MOE.

"The MOE at that point is responsible for the REA process," Leah said.

The MOE will then post the completed application to its registry and will make its decision on the project within a period of six months or less.

"Ostensibly, within six months we should hear back. That could be a yes that could be a no. Along the way we could be told 'You need more information,'" he said.

Leah added he is confident the MOE will grant Recurrent Energy its REA approval because there aren't any environmental issues related to the Orillia 2 project that can't be easily mitigated.

If the MOE grants the REA approval, the public has an opportunity to launch an appeal to the environmental review tribunal.

But Galloway said the appeal process isn't realistic for the "little person."

"Recurrent Energy's got deep pockets," he said. "For little people, it's not really an option unless you're willing to spend money for a lawyer."

If there is no appeal launched, or the appeal is unsuccessful, the fate of the project then moves to the Ontario Power Authority for a series of approvals, such as if the project meets the domestic content requirements and has the necessary financial backing.


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