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Local planning for renewable energy projects? Government says no

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives (PC) failed in its latest bid to lift municipal planning restrictions from the Green Energy Act (GEA).

Much to the dismay of Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones, the Liberals and NDP voted against a private member’s bill put forward by her PC colleague, Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith, aimed at restoring planning authority to local municipalities at Queen’s Park on Thursday (Dec. 1).

“Local residents should absolutely have a say in the development of their local communities,” Jones said in a news release. “Right now, the Green Energy Act denies them that say.”

Smith’s bill, which sought to amend the GEA, was defeated by a vote of 45 to 32, during which PC officials say all of its MPPs in attendance supported. The GEA removed planning authority for renewable energy projects from municipal councils – a move many local councils have repeatedly criticized.

Speaking to about 10 reporters during a telephone press conference held by the Ontario Community Newspaper Association (OCNA) shortly before Thursday’s vote, Energy Minister Chris Bentley said the current approach provides “substantial input requirements” from individuals and municipalities located near proposed renewable energy projects.

There may be a few residents and members of council in municipalities with wind turbine projects like Melancthon or Amaranth who might disagree with the minister.

As Bentley explained, however, the government is open to start a dialogue with those who feel they don’t have a strong enough voice, but not willing to accept anything but a province-wide approach to renewable energy project.

“We’re not prepared to accept the patchwork approach. That will simply stop all of the projects,” Bentley said. “There is a lot of money involved in these projects, a lot of investment, a lot of jobs and those jobs are coming to rural as well as urban Ontario.”

Bentley is in favour of any suggestions on how to strengthen the process, as long as those are within the framework of a provincial approach. It is important to remember projects are proposed in certain municipalities because there are local people who want them to happen, he added.

“We always want to remember projects are proposed for certain areas because of local involvement,” Bentley said. “There are people in the very communities in which these debates are held, who are proposing the projects.”

During the last parliamentary session, Jones tabled a bill similar to Smith’s aimed to restore municipal planning oversight. For obvious reasons, the local MPP was disappointed by Thursday’s result in Toronto.

“Community engagement is an essential component of all municipal planning decisions,” Jones added. “The government needs to amend the Green Energy Act to ensure there is proper public consultation.”