The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) recently proposed changes to Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approval regulation (O. Reg. 359/09) and corresponding Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms to address advancements in wind turbine technology and to incorporate the most recent 2013 CSA standard[1] for wind turbine acoustic noise measurement.

RENEWABLE ENERGY APPROVAL REGULATION

Changes to the REA regulation include amendments to definitions of “sound power level” and “noise receptor” and exemptions in limited circumstances from proponents having to obtain amendments to issued REA.

“Sound power level” definition amended to include manufacturers’ positive uncertainty value

Under the proposed changes, the definition of “sound power level” would be amended to expressly include the positive “uncertainty value” as determined by a wind turbine manufacturer. The “uncertainty value” is a +/- value assigned under the CSA standard to account for a potential range of uncertainty in the sound power level rating of a wind turbine. With the proposed change, the positive uncertainty value would have to be accounted for by proponents in the noise assessments of their projects.

Adding disclosure requirement for qualification of pending construction as “noise receptors”

The proposed changes would amend the definition of “noise receptor”. Noise receptors under the REA regulation include dwellings, schools, health care facilities, community centers and places of worship. Proponents must assess and account for these buildings nearby to their project site to ensure that wind turbines are placed in accordance with the prescribed distance or setback to limit noise exposure. Currently, if the construction of a noise receptor has not commenced but is approved under the Planning Act or a building permit has been issued, that proposed building qualifies as a noise receptor and must be taken into account by the proponent in its project assessment. The proposed amendment would add a further qualification – disclosure. In order for a planned building to qualify as a “noise receptor”, a municipality or landowner would have to disclose the site plan approval or building permit to the proponent within 60 days of the proponent making a written request for it.

Exemptions for proponents from obtaining amendments to REA

Proponents would no longer have to obtain an amendment to an REA for specified changes to a project that are not expected to have any negative environmental effects and/or are already occurring at the project location assessed in the original REA application. These may include:

  • A change that results in the reduction in the size of the project location, provided that there is no change to the renewable energy generation facility; or
  • A change in respect of a communications tower or fiber optic communications line.

Proponents would be required to provide notice of the change to the Director and District Manager for the location of the project for record-keeping and monitoring purposes. Proponents would also be required to publish public notice of the change on their website.

Other proposed changes to the REA Regulation

Other proposed changes include:

  • Changing the classification of wind facilities and the application of the 550 meter setback to ensure that the new, taller and quieter wind turbine models continue to meet the standards of the REA regulation. A wind turbine hub height of 70 meters would be added as additional criteria to the existing wind facility classification requirements of greatest sound power level;
  • Amendments to natural heritage assessment requirements and the definition and geographic extent of “woodlands” to align with Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, 2014; and
  • Transition provisions to allow proponents of projects who have entered into a power purchase agreement with the Ontario Power Authority or Independent Electricity Systems Operator and who have submitted an REA or Environmental Compliance Approval application to the MOECC before January 1, 2016 to continue to apply the pre-2016 sound power level requirements.

NOISE GUIDELINES FOR WINDFARMS

The MOECC is proposing to update the 2008 Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms to reflect current science and guidance on noise and to incorporate the most recent CAN/CSA standard on wind turbine noise. The MOECC has prepared a summary of the proposed changes to the 2008 Noise Guidelines, which include amendments to guidelines for:

  • Global ground factor value;
  • Tonality;
  • Wind shear profile;
  • Vacant lots as receptors; and
  • Definition of participating receptors.

The amendments to the REA regulation and Noise Guidelines and are targeted to be in force as of January 1, 2016.

Co-authored by Michael McDonald, an articling student at Aird & Berlis LLP