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MOE approval of wind project faces court challenge

Preserve Grey Highlands Citizens Alliance Inc. is taking a Ministry of the Environment’s (MOE) decision to task, requesting an Ontario divisional court quash the ministry’s approval of the Plateau Wind Project in the Municipality of Grey Highlands.
In its application filed to divisional court on June 30, the citizens group claims the ministry failed to consider and properly apply the MOE’s Statement of Environmental Values (SEV) when issuing the Certificate of Approval on Sept. 2, and therefore, violated the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR).
The Alliance also challenges the MOE’s regulatory framework for approving the project. According to the legal action, MOE officials did not consider the project’s cumulative and economic effects, or take a precautionary approach when approving the Plateau Wind Project in Grey Highlands, which includes seven turbines in Melancthon.
The group further alleges inconsistencies between the ministry’s SEV and its environmental assessment procedures exist, and argues the ministry’s decision has left wind opponents with no route of appeal.
According to Larry Close, president of Preserve Grey Highlands Citizens Alliance Inc., the MOE’s denial of requests for a full environmental assessment in regards to the project dictates the ministry’s alleged failure to meet conditions in its SEV need to be tested in court.
“In a democratic society, the implementation of government policies must be subject to the rules of administrative law,” Close said in a news release. “Our rights as taxpaying citizens must be respected.”
None of the Alliance’s allegations have been proven in court. According to Jonathan Rose, spokesperson for the province’s Minister of the Environment John Wilkinson, the MOE was cleared of similar allegations in another case brought forward by Ian Hanna in Prince Edward County, south of Belleville. Declining to comment directly on the Alliance’s claims, Rose noted in Hanna’s case, and his subsequent appeal, the courts ruled in the MOE’s favour.
“The Superior Court of Ontario found that our regulations considered both the Statement of Environmental Values and the Environmental Bill of Rights,” Rose said in an email. “They also confirmed that developing the regulation included full public consultation, consideration of the views of interested parties, health reports, science-based evidence and expert opinions.”
As the Alliance explains in its legal action, the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) prohibits projects from releasing contaminants that may cause adverse effects, but exempts discharges approved by the director of the MOE if it is believed they aren’t likely to cause a negative impact.
In its case, the Alliance claims the director of the MOE “permitted otherwise unlawful releases of contaminants” by issuing the Certificate of Approval “without considering the actual and/or potential cumulative consequences of the Plateau Project.”
Furthermore, the Alliance is requesting the divisional court review what it calls the government’s reliance on information provided by wind developers through a self-assessment process. As the legal action explained, the Plateau Wind Project was reviewed through an Environmental Screening Process, “a proponent-driven self-assessment process,” rather than “independent scrutiny,” it was exempted from full Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) requirements.
As the Alliance case explains, the project received an electricity projects exemption under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA). In addition, the Alliance further notes that according to Section 32 of the EBR, the Certificate of Approval is exempt from public participation requirements, including the right to appeal the decision to the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT).
“The Plateau Project pre-dates amendments to the EPA, which would have required the proponent to obtain a Renewable Energy Approval (REA), which in turn would have permitted an appeal to the ERT,” the legal action claims. “Consequently, no appeal or right to seek leave to appeal from the decision is available.”
On the other hand, Rose said the ministry’s “stringent approvals process makes sure these projects are safe.”