Ontario eyes speeding up wind turbine approvals
Ontario eyes speeding up wind turbine approvals; Green proposals would limit municipal powers
A draft provincial government proposal to “streamline” the approval of green energy projects such as industrial wind turbines would effectively strip Ontario’s municipal governments of much of their power to decide whether they want such facilities to be established in their communities.
The document, a first draft of a proposed new Green Energy Act for Ontario, is dated Dec. 10, 2008. Its full title is a bit of a mouthful: “A Proposal for An Act Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources to Manage Global Climate Change, Protect the Environment and Streamline Project Approvals.”
It’s the “Streamline Project Approvals” part of the title that will be of the most interest to residents of this region, where a series of proposed wind farm projects in the Townships of Madawaska Valley, South Algonquin, Bonnechere Valley and elsewhere are now before municipal councils.
The document surfaces as proposed industrial wind turbine operations are meeting with resistance in several communities across the province. Last fall, the council of the Township of South Algonquin voted to impose a 10-year moratorium on the approval of any wind farm proposals. RES Canada Inc. wants to build between 40 and 60 such turbines in the township on Crown land just outside the south-eastern edge of Algonquin Provincial Park. The plans are strongly opposed by many year-round and seasonal residents. Plans by the SkyPower company for six turbines on the hills north of Wilno are also running into well-organized opposition. Farther afield, the town council of Essex, near Windsor, is considering a ban on such projects until all health questions and other concerns raised by residents are clearly answered by the province.
Ontario Energy Minister George Smitherman, who has a reputation for being both outspoken and confrontational, has made it clear that he is frustrated at public opposition to wind energy projects, which are a big part of his government’s Green Energy Act plans. Last fall, after South Algonquin imposed a moratorium on wind turbines, he sent a letter to Barry’s Bay This Week outlining his “disappointment” at council’s move.
In its preamble, the draft provincial document says “Ontario is a world leader in the effort to arrest global climate change and the protection of greenspace.” The paper then lays out the many benefits to the environment of green energy, and outlines plans to “make Ontario a global leader in the development of renewable energy, clean distributed energy and conservation.”
Scattered throughout the 10-page draft are references to “streamlining” the approval process for green energy projects. But it is near the end of the document, in a section obliquely titled “Protecting the Environment,” where the reader gets some idea of just what streamlining measures are being proposed. The document urges amending the Environmental Assessment Act and the Planning Act by making the following changes:
• Implementing what the document calls a “one project, one process” approach that would do away with requirements that green energy projects obtain approval under the Planning Act. It also favours doing away with any Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearings into new or existing projects if they “have already been approved (or exempted) under the Environmental Assessment Act.” The OMB is widely considered to be the final avenue of appeal for disputes over municipal government actions.
• The government, by way of Orders in Council signed by the Lieutenant Governor, should make regulations that set down “clear, prescriptive provincial standards for the siting of green energy projects (e.g. “no go” areas, setback requirements, etc.) and that determine areas in need of protection.”
The document goes on to say that those restrictions “should be technology specific and based on legitimate and peer-reviewed scientific data.” This would appear to rule out objections based on whether or not a project is appropriate for an area. For example, many opponents of the South Algonquin wind farm proposal object to the plans because the wind turbines would be located near Whitney beside the border with Algonquin Park, the province’s largest provincial park and a national treasure in the eyes of many Canadians.
• The act should“streamline” environmental assessments and use “class environmental assessments” wherever possible. The class assessment sets down the planning process through which the environmental impact and benefits of projects are considered. Such a move would appear to limit the scope of individual assessment of the environmental impact of a particular project at a particular site.
• “Streamline” and co-ordinate the planning and building permit process for green energy projects.
The document goes on to recommend other measures to speed up the Environmental Assessment approval process for green energy projects. It urges “adjusting project categories or thresholds under approved class environmental assessments “so that a greater number of renewable energy projects are fully exempt under the EA Act (but they must still obtain other federal or provincial approvals where applicable).”
It also calls for shorter time frames, giving six months as an example, and clearer deadlines for the completion of the planning/review process under approved class environmental assessments.
The draft document does contain some recommended restrictions on the location of green energy projects. For example, it says that such projects “should not be located in, or cause adverse impacts upon,” critical habitat of endangered or threatened species; provincially significant wetlands, valleys, woodlands or wildlife habitat; sites of cultural heritage or archaeological value; lands designated under legislation to protect the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine, and in provincial parks and reserves.
It also recommends amending the Environmental Assessment Act to enhance the requirements for public notice of green energy projects to ensure that all parties have adequate notice and an opportunity to participate in the process.
Wilno resident Carl Bromwich emailed copies of the draft provincial document to the Township of Madawaska Valley council this week. In his letter, Bromwich charged that the Ontario government is moving “to virtually eliminate the Environmental Assessment Process that is presently in place.”
“First Nations Groups will be afforded a front-row seat for any wind proposal, so that it appears the government is sensitive to this group of people,” Bromwich says. “Of course, the Ontario landowner outside this group will not have a seat.”
“I am just mailing this into municipal council to make sure there is a record of ‘what may be’ and offer up a suggestion that, as a municipal resident, I believe we should all stick together here and work together to make sure our local council retains the power to represent us, protect us and speak on our behalf during what may possibly be a tearing down of what few democratic rights we still have in this province.”
Lou Eyamie, president of Save Our Skyline, or SOS, a group opposed to wind turbine construction in the area, warned Madawaska Valley Councillors at Monday’s meeting that the draft proposal would, when implemented, mean that “you are going to lose your say on energy matters.
“I want to make sure that you know that they’re going to go all the way around you,” Eyamie said.
By Douglas Gloin
Barry’s Bay This Week
7 January 2009
Editors Note: If anyone questions that this “Draft” is just an attempt by the Wind Industry to force our Government to adopt their agenda then you must read the following comment that describe the actions surrounding this draft by David Suzuki and his meeting with our Minister of Energy George Smitherman. The moderator explains how involved our Minister is and how he is “looking forward” to adopting an Act such as this to further his agenda. After reading this there can be no doubt as to the intentions of our Provincial Government to virtually eliminate the “bottlenecks” in the approval process for future Wind Farm Development.
“Thursday, December 4th, 2008
I had the honour of moderating a discussion on Tuesday evening between
Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki and Ontario Energy and
Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman. The event, aimed at
promoting the creation of a Green Energy Act for Ontario, included a
free showing of The Suzuki Diaries (you can watch it in full online).
It’s an entertaining and insightful one-hour documentary that follows
the European travels of Suzuki and his daughter Sarika as they explore
the creative use of renewable-energy technologies in Germany, France,
Spain, and Denmark. In addition to the focus on renewables, there’s a
message in there about the need for parents to give their children
hope that we have the means today of changing the world for the
If you’re interested in learning about the Green Energy Act initiative
in Ontario, click here. Green Energy Act Draft The envisioned act would give renewables and
conservation priority in electricity system planning and grid access,
make advanced renewable energy tariffs the primary mechanism for
developing green energy in the province (as opposed to RFPs), aim to
support such projects with low-interest financing, promote development
of the smart grid, and stimulate community and First Nation projects,
all with a mind to creating green-collar jobs.
Environmental groups are introducing the envisioned act on Friday in
hopes the Ontario government will adopt parts or all of it. So far
Smitherman, who appears to have a genuine interest in raising the bar
on renewables and conservation, has indicated his support for such
legislation and is apparently making steps toward that goal. It will
be interesting to see how far the government does go, but if this
initiative ever does make its way into legislation it would make
Ontario THE hotspot for renewable energy development in North America.”………..
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