Earlier this year, Ontario introduced new legislation known as the Green Energy Act. The Act is intended to support the development of the renewable energy industry in Ontario. In so doing, it changes the government approvals process for “green energy” projects by changing a variety of statutes, regulations, policies, and procedures.
In light of the new Act, the Ministry of Natural Resources recently announced that it will need to review the policies that govern wind projects (including turbines slated for the Great Lakes) and waterpower projects on Crown land. The Ministry has also placed a moratorium on new applications for these kinds of projects on Crown land until the review is completed.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submitted our first comment on this policy review earlier this week. In general, we expressed concerns that some of the same procedural and public interest challenges that permeate the Green Energy Act reappear in the proposed policies.
For example, the Ministry’s recently published approvals policy on permitting requirements for renewable energy projects allows developers to change their plans without consulting the public. It promotes a new government office (Renewable Energy Facilitation Ofﬁce) that uses government powers and resources to protect and pursue private, for-profit interests with no public accountability or oversight. Perhaps most worrying of all, the Ministry of Natural Resources policy does not require off-shore wind developers to consider impacts on recreational fisheries.
To counteract such concerns about bias, transparency, and impacts on Lake Ontario’s vulnerable fisheries, Waterkeeper offered a number of recommendations to the Ministry of Natural Resources:
- The Ministry of Natural Resources should strive to be a source of environmental protection in the face of the rollbacks to environmental protection introduced through the Green Energy Act.
- The Ministry must consider its Statement of Environmental Values, including the obligation to work for ecological sustainability, in any decision regarding a change to its policies and procedures.
- The Windpower Policy and Procedures should be expanded to include limits on the density of energy project development in a given area.
- The Ministry should increase requirements for public notification and consultation at each stage of a project application, especially before meeting with the proponent behind closed doors.
- The Ministry’s policies and procedures should clearly state that Ministry advice to proponents shall be restricted to procedural instructions and formatting requirements. Outside of these bounds, advice given by the Ministry to proponents on substantive aspects of an application must be subject to public scrutiny and review.
- The public should be notified and consulted at every stage of the proposed changes to the Ministry’s site release policies. Pursuant to the Environmental Bill of Rights, the draft documents containing the proposed changes must be posted to the Environmental Registry. All further changes proposed as part of the review should also be posted for public review and comment through the Registry.