Green energy developers want limits on OMB appeals

Posted By Monte Sonnenberg, SIMCOE REFORMER

A clean energy project may be coming to a neighbourhood near you — whether you like it or not.

Speaking to the London Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, Premier Dalton McGuinty said new legislation — the Green Energy Act — will streamline the approval process for renewable energy projects. The province, McGuinty said, will no longer tolerate the “Not in my backyard” attitude that often accompanies necessary but unpopular projects.

“We are going to find a way, through this new legislation, to make it perfectly clear that NIMBYism will no longer prevail,” McGuinty said. “We need those jobs, we need clean electricity, we need to assume full responsibility in the face of climate change, and we are going to do that in Ontario. We can’t allow interests to oppose these simply because they do not like them.”

Norfolk County has seen its fair share of interest in green energy projects over the past three years. The AIMPowerGen wind farm west of Port Rowan is one of the largest in Ontario. Meanwhile, Norfolk council has approved two SunEdison solar farms — one north of Simcoe and one west of Port Ryerse — and a third solar farm west of Waterford belonging to Great Lakes Solar Power.

Norfolk’s planning department recently received an application for a fourth solar installation, this one from Axio Power of Toronto. Axio plans to build an 89-acre installation on farmland near the intersection of Stone Quarry Road and Cloet Road in the former Township of Windham.

Yet another application — this one for a 10-megawatt, five-turbine wind installation — is expected soon from IPC Energy of Mississauga. IPC has bought land for this purpose in Port Ryerse.

“We believe there is a good wind resource there,” spokesperson Tom Lewis said this week. “That’s what brought us here. We’ve acquired property. It’s just a matter of measuring the wind and making a business case for it.”

If the province is going to fast-track these and other projects, an obvious modification would involve the public’s right to appeal planning decisions to the Ontario Municipal Board. The SunEdison project near Port Ryerse has been delayed for nearly two years, in part, because of an OMB challenge.

At this point, the province isn’t ready to tamper with the Environmental Assessment process. Amy Tang, spokesperson for Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, said this week that a streamlined process will not affect public health and safety. As for the right to appeal to the OMB, Tang says that remains to be seen.

“We need to satisfy the desire of people who want to be part of a green economy faster,” she said. “If (opposition) is just based on aesthetics alone, then no, that would not be reason enough to appeal.”

In its submission to the McGuinty government, the Canadian Wind Energy Association says all parties to a development proposal should retain a right of appeal to the OMB. However, CanWEA wants the province to impose a three-month deadline for the OMB to make its decisions.

“From a developer’s point of view, you still want an automatic right of appeal, and as a citizen, you want the right of appeal to make sure the project is being done right,” Lewis said.

Mark Dorfman, a planning consultant from Waterloo, says it is entirely possible that the Green Energy Act will impose limits on OMB appeals. The province set a precedent several years ago, Dorfman said, when it eliminated a developer’s right to appeal unfavourable decisions regarding urban boundary expansions. The measure was designed to limit sprawl.

“I can not recall another instance where the Planning Act denies individuals the right of appeal,” Dorfman said. “Maybe we’re heading toward revisions. That would really put accountability and responsibility on municipal councils to make the right decisions. But who knows? It is premature to speculate where the government is going with this. Whatever happens, it is bound to be controversial.”

The Green Energy Act will be introduced during the spring session of the legislature at Queen’s Park, which gets underway Tuesday.