Loss of local control concern at green energy meeting

Posted By Don Crosby Owen Sound Sun Times

Concerns are being raised that the proposed provincial Green Energy Act threatens the authority of local municipal councils.

“Municipal powers are our checks and balances. Once they are removed for any reason you set a priority, you have lost your democratic right. This is not what the Green Energy Act should be about,” said Ron Stephens of Kincardine, who attended a public meeting in Markdale on Tuesday night about the province’s proposal.

The meeting was sponsored by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association and Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Tuesday’s meeting in Markdale was one of several being held by OSEA and other members of the energy alliance in communities across the province to promote the new bill and drum up support for the proposed legislation.

Stephens and others at the meeting expressed their concern that in a bid to streamline regulations around development of renewable energy the province has promised to establish standardized setbacks and shorten environmental assessment times that would favour developers and speed up the approval process while reducing local control.

“We don’t need the Green Energy Act. We can figure things our ourselves,” Stephens said.

The Ontario government introduced its proposed Green Energy Act late last month after a year of lobbying by the Green Energy Alliance — a network of agricultural, labour, industrial and environmental organizations.

The proposed act includes:

• A commitment to improve energy conservation.

• An obligation to purchase power from sustainable energy sources over other sources.

• Fair prices for renewable energy based on the cost of production and guaranteed over the long term.

• An obligation for all utilities to connect renewable energy to the electricity grid.

• Financing programs for community-owned energy projects.

• An adjustment of electricity prices to reflect true costs and promote conservation.

• First Nations and Metis community participation.

The bill passed first and second reading late last month and is now before a standing committee for public input.

Grey Highlands Mayor Brian Mullin said it’s a bit too soon to be concerned.

The details of any legislation are in the regulations, which are passed by the government and not the legislature.

His municipality did a lot of work and spent a lot of money to create policies governing renewable energy in Grey Highlands.

“On the other hand there are some issues are bigger that we can’t address and have to be addressed by the province, such as connections to the grid,” said Mullin.

He’s concerned that that regulations won’t be tight enough to protect everyone and that the timetable for approval of the bill is quite short. It is expected to become law this summer.

Mullin said concerned residents can post comments on the provincial Environmental Bill of Rights website and make presentations before the standing committee, which has begun public hearings.

Tuesday’s meeting began with a video comparing the advances that Germany is making in renewable energy with what’s happening in Canada, which was portrayed as lagging far behind many European countries in wind, solar and biogas.

Tony Clark of Chatsworth said the video created an erroneous impression.

“They always compare Canada to Germany and say we should be like Germany. That’s absolutely nonsense, they should be like us. Germany already gets 60 per cent of its power from fossil fuels (coal and gas) and they are implementing 26,000 megawatts more of coal generated electricity. That’s the equivalent of the total amount of power we have in Ontario. Canada only gets about 27 per cent of our power from coal . . . they are light years behind us,” Clark said.

“I’m really upset that the new Green Energy Act will take away the rights of municipalities and the civil rights of residents of Ontario . . . it sets a precedent and once the government does it a precedent will be set and they will do it again and again,” Clark said.

Winton Dahlstrom, president of Helix Energy, a wind energy developer from Dundalk and chair of OSEA, says the act will provide regulation in a fast-growing industry that faces a patchwork of regulations across the province.

“At this point, after second reading, it’s a little short on detail. Speaking as a developer I would like to see more of the detail brought into the legislation and not left to regulation because that will inject a certain element of certainty for the investment community. They would rather see something written down in black and white in law rather than regulation that might change with the next government,” said Dahlstrom.

Dahlstrom has a wind energy project that he plans to develop at the Dundalk sewage lagoon site.

He said OSEA is an advocate of sustainable energy.

“We don’t make any pretenses that we’re anything other than that. We want to see sustainable energy technology brought into existence because we don’t see that there’s any other alternative,” said Dahlstrom.