By Lloyd Brown-John, Special to The Windsor Star
Political and legislative arrogance is offensive and this act reeks of crassly delegated authority.
Perhaps, provincial Liberal MPPs need to learn that the virtue of democracy cannot be short-circuited under the pretext of imposing a green energy plan.
I have no quibbles with “being green” and being energy efficient. I also have no quibbles with democracy in assuring the rights of individuals. Challenging is juxtaposing green imperatives with democracy.
That contest is being played out in Essex County. Ostensibly it is a battle between many of the residents of the county and private developers who propose to construct more than 700 wind turbines in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.
As if a plague had oozed into neighbourhoods, the proposed construction of those wind turbines in local lake waters appears to be unstoppable — there is no apparent cure for a plague of antiquated wind turbines.
The contest is uneven. Wind turbine developers, under Ontario’s draconian Green Energy and Green Economy Act, need only demonstrate that a project will meet energy goals of the act.
The act itself is vague on policy objectives. And it is loaded with provisions enabling a minister and even a deputy minister of Energy and Infrastructure to make regulations, sub-regulations and even sub-sub-regulations. The provincial legislature has essentially abandoned oversight.
So abstract is the regulatory mandate that it is impossible to discern clear policy intent of the act beyond platitudes about renewable energy and green energy.
For opponents of 700-plus wind turbines in local lakes, they must demonstrate that development could cause serious harm to human health and serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life and the natural environment. This being “applicable only to opponents” standard is well beyond capacities of average citizens.
Ontario’s autocratic Green Energy Act, in addition to being a nightmare for citizens, is a horror story for municipalities. Municipal planning died in Schedule K of the act, which exempts developers from zoning bylaws and official plans.
A major consulting firm advises on its website: “New planning act exemptions also help investors build renewable energy generation facilities and engage in other renewable energy projects despite municipal zoning bylaws that may otherwise prohibit development. This will overcome potential municipal obstacles …”
The same consulting firm advises: “(that) investors, project developers and other industry players must act now if they hope to identify the most lucrative investment opportunities.”
Of course, the energy act creates lucrative rates of return for investors through long-term contracts to provide green energy to Ontario’s electrical grid.
Ontario consumers are required to subsidize rates should developers suffer financial loss. One section of the act provides that “consumers are required to contribute toward the amount of any compensation arising from a distributor’s lost revenue arising from a rate reduction.”
The consultant’s website offers advice: “As an added advantage, the province plans to provide grants and loans on favourable terms to encourage renewable energy projects. You need to lay the groundwork to access this capital, and take advantage of other tax and funding incentives.”
What is disturbing about Ontario’s Green Energy Act is not its basic notion. Rather, it is the casual manner in which democracy has been sidelined by delegated authority.
Ontario’s Czar of Renewable Energy — Renewable Energy Facilitation Office and Renewable Energy Facilitator — has capacities under the act to run roughshod over local residents.
If the citizens do not matter from the perspective of this remarkably overbearing piece of legislation, what recourse remains?
Political and legislative arrogance is offensive and this act reeks of crassly delegated authority. Perhaps, provincial Liberal MPPs need to learn that the virtue of democracy cannot be short-circuited under the pretext of imposing a green energy plan.
Lloyd Brown-John is a professor of Political Science at the University of Windsor.