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Hamilton talks renewable energy - Solar SurgeĀ 

July 15, 2015
By Leah Wong

Recognizing the need to balance green energy initiatives against farmland protection, Hamilton council has refused its first application for a major solar development citing the absence of policies to guide the location of green energy projects.

Hamilton council voted not to support Samsung Renewable Energy’s proposal for a 15 MW ground-mounted solar photovoltaic project at 2037 Centre Road in Flamborough this week. While it supports renewable energy initiatives, council decided it needs a policy that will outline the locations best suited for green energy projects before moving forward.

“We are going to move into a post carbon era and its incumbent on us to take these issues as they come to create a green, renewable energy program for our community,” Ward 3 councillor Matthew Green told council. “We need to clearly define and outline parameters for what we want to do.”

Green said that a renewable energy policy would prevent council from having to address projects as one-off s and would give companies a better idea of where these projects are encouraged.

Applications for solar projects are submitted to the province under the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.

While decisions about where green energy infrastructure is installed is ultimately up to the province, municipalities have the opportunity to provide input on each submission. Not having council support would work against project approval when it is scored by the province.

Samsung’s proposed site is one of the few parcels in rural Hamilton that is not designated prime agricultural in the city’s official plan. As such a report to Planning Committee from planning and economic development general manager Jason Thorne said, from a planning perspective, the site may be the most compatible location for this project within rural Hamilton. Planning director Steve Robichaud told council the provincial policy for solar energy dictates that projects not be located on prime agricultural lands.

Ward 15 councillor Judi Partridge said that the majority of participants at the recent public meeting were in support of the project and several said they were interested in Samsung considering their properties to install solar panels.

However, council was concerned that it would be supporting a green energy project while failing to protect the community’s agricultural assets.

“Agriculture is still alive in Hamilton and we have to keep that in mind,” Ward 15 councillor Robert Pasuta told council. “This is viable land and people can make a living on it.”

Several councillors said they were confused as to why the first solar proposal was coming on rural land when there are other sites with limited agriculture or development potential that would be more appropriate.

“I’m puzzled as to why we wouldn’t use up obvious pieces of land first,” said Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead. “I’d think you would put these kinds of solutions on unproductive land before you start imposing it on what could potentially be good agricultural land.”

Whitehead suggested that there are opportunities to use underutilized municipal properties, such as former quarries and dormant landfill sites, for solar projects instead of rural lands. He said the city needs to do all it can to preserve land that can be used for agricultural purposes.

While councillors Green and Partridge supported Samsung’s proposal they agreed that the city should be looking at other lands for renewable energy projects. Green said his preference is for projects to be located on urban brownfield sites so as not to pit agriculture against green energy.

Green said he would like to see more proposals for green energy in the city. He said the recent installation of a solar powered recharging station in Lifesavers Park is an example of an appropriate application and would like the city to consider similar projects in other parks. The recharging station will allow residents to run their community events with renewable energy.