Ward 14 Councillor Robert Pasuta is a man of a few words. He hardly ever speaks at meetings of Hamilton Council and its many committees. But when this Mountsberg farmer does speak, his colleagues sit up and listen. And they surely listened to him last Friday when he addressed the Samsung solar farm proposal at a meeting of Council.
At issue was whether Council should provide a letter of support for the massive Samsung ‘solar farm’ proposal on the south-west quadrant of Centre Road and Mountsberg Road. Earlier in the week (Tuesday), the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce (FCC) suggested to the Planning Committee that consideration of the Samsung proposal be tabled to the Council meeting (Friday) so as to gauge community input at a public information session scheduled for later in the day (Tuesday). Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge was successful in getting her colleagues to agree to postponing consideration of the proposal until Friday’s Council meeting.
At Friday’s Council meeting, Councillor Partridge confirmed with staff that ultimate approval for the project lies with the province. The province could also ignore Council”s current moratorium on windmill farms. After presenting amendments that would see continued involvement by both herself and the City, Councillor Partridge was prepared to provide support for the proposal.
At Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting, FCC Executive Director Arend Kersten argued that while the ‘Voice of Business’ in Flamborough supports ‘green’ or ‘alternative’ energy, projects such as Samsung should not include windmills and should not be constructed on any class of productive agricultural land. By regulation, solar farms are not permitted on Class 1, 2 or 3 agricultural lands.
The proposed site in Mountsberg is not in any of the prohibited classes. But Kersten had visited the site and told the Planning Committee that the farm was indeed in agricultural production. In fact, the elderly owner of the land confirmed to the Planning Committee that the farm had been in agricultural production for over a century.
In his presentation to the Planning Committee, Kersten acknowledged that Council would require the ‘wisdom of Solomon’ in making a difficult choice between green energy on the one hand and protecting productive agricultural land on the other.
Then Councillor Pasuta went to work.
In a long, deeply personal speech that was saturated with passion and emotion, Councillor Pasuta – without raising his voice – claimed that some Mountsberg area farmers had been approached by an individual to gauge interest in leasing their farms for solar ANDwindmill energy projects
As the ‘Voice of Agriculture’ on Council, Pasuta said he had personally farmed the proposed site and added that while it is not Class 1, 2 or 3 agricultural land, it is nevertheless productive agricultural land and a farmer ‘could make a living off it.’ He finished his comments by pleading with his Council colleagues to not support the Samsung proposal.
One by one, Pasuta’s Council colleague spoke up to support his position. And when it came time to vote, only Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green (City Centre – East) supported Councillor Partridge’s motion. However Councillors Partridge and Green did receive unanimous support for a motion directing staff to develop a comprehensive city-wide policy regarding all future green energy proposals.
But Councillor Pasuta’s eloquence and Council’s final decision may be moot.
As noted earlier, the province – through its Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) – will make the final decision about alternative energy projects in Ontario. It can override local objections and moratoriums and impose a decision that will see both solar and windmill projects go ahead in Mountsberg and elsewhere. That’s why the attention will now turn to Ancaster-Flamborough-Dundas-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin – the powerful Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in the Premier Kathleen Wynne Cabinet at Queen’s Park.
IESO will consider projects based on a ‘point system.’ Proposals that have local municipal support receive more ‘points’ than those who don’t. That why Council’s decision on Friday was so important.