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Bewdley solar farm opponents meet with Leal, Rinaldi at Queen's Park

By Jason Bain, The Peterborough Examiner

NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY - Opponents of a solar farm planned for the Bewdley area, who say they had been trying to get a meeting with Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal since last February, met with the agriculture, food and rural affairs minister at Queen's Park on Wednesday.

Members of Rural Representation, who oppose GreenLife Solar 19 - a 500-kilowatt ground-mounted installation planned for a four-acre site at 6330 Ganaraska Rd. - met with Leal, Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi and government officials.

The group, which was accompanied by Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie, has sought a response its 30-page report, titled Solar by Stealth, in which land use specialists say errors and discrepancies in the project application are cause to have it axed.

They didn't get the project cancellation they seek, but the group does feel like it has been heard and that officials know they are not going away, farmer John Kordas said. "We're certainly optimistic and hope that comment sense and sensibilities prevail."

Leal said in public life, he has always tried to be a facilitator - to bring people together to have a conversation like that which was had on Wednesday.

He said he encouraged Kordas and other group members to continue the engagement, while providing them with the information they needed.

The solar project is one of 42 by the company taking part in the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program within Ontario's Green Energy and Green Economy Act, which allows developers to fast-track works by bypassing the municipal planning application process.

A representative from the Ministry of Energy has asked the group to lay out discrepancies between the FIT program methology and the work that has actually been done, which they plan to complete as soon as possible, said Kordas, who lives next door to the site.

"We have no reason to protract it," he said. "We're addressing it with urgency and zest."

Leal stressed that solar farms are not permitted on class one, two and three soils - the three that are considered prime agricultural farmland. Beyond three is acceptable.

Kordas went as far to call the solar farm, which was approved in 2013, "illegal" because its soil may actually fit into those classifications.

Initially, the agriculture ministry deemed it as class six, but has since said that more investigation is needed before verifying what land class it is.

"It's as clear as mud," Kordas said, adding that the group has sought new soil mapping since February and that the government is relying on outdated information.

The land, which was one part of the one of the largest potato farms in Hope Township, now yields three cuts of hay per season, which the farmer who harvests it would not be able to get if it was not prime land, Kordas said.

Work has not started at the site, but could at any time, he said.

jabain@postmedia.com