The provincial government’s approach to approving renewable energy projects gives local government’s less say, not more, said a veteran Progressive Conservative MPP.
Oxford County MPP Ernie Hardeman, the Progressive Conservative critic for municipal affairs and housing, said that while Kathleen Wynne’s government says it is giving municipal councils more say in the projects, the reverse is actually true.
“If you don’t allow them to say no, you’re not giving them a say,” Hardeman said Monday. “You can’t say, ‘We’re going to give them a say, but only if they agree.'”
Hardeman was reacting to comments made last week by Wynne and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews when they were in Kingston.
Wynne and Matthews said the renewable energy approval process had been changed to give municipal councils more say in their placement.
“I would say to [municipalities] that they have a whole lot more say than they did five years ago,” Wynne said during a visit to Regiopolis-Notre Dame Catholic High School Thursday morning. “We never said there was going to be a veto for municipalities, but we put in place much more rigorous consideration of municipalities’ concerns.”
“The local voice does matter, but we are not prepared to give people a veto,” Matthews said the day before Wynne’s visit.
“If the local voice really matters, it has to have the ability to say yes or no,” Hardeman said.
Hardeman said the Liberal government is likely pushing forward with the its green energy plans, in part, to fulfil commitments it made in 2010 in the $7 billion Green Energy Investment Agreement with the Korean Consortium, which includes Samsung Corporation.
The agreement led to the establishment of three renewable energy manufacturing facilities in Toronto, London, Windsor and in Tillsonburg, in Hardeman’s riding. Wind and solar equipment built at those plants were used in renewable energy projects in the province.
The lack of meaningful local input to the process will likely backfire on the government, Hardeman said, and spur more municipalities to declare themselves unwilling hosts for renewable energy projects.
Not that such a label will mean anything in the coming next two rounds of the large Renewable Procurement program.
Thirteen of the 16 new contracts got local council approval, and the projects approved in unwilling hosts were wind energy developments.
Municipal politicians and opponents of the wind energy projects fear that as the LRP process continues, it will be more and more difficult for unwilling hosts to keep projects from being approved.
The government’s willingness to approve projects in unwilling host municipalities is a “giant step backwards” and will make energy companies less interested in negotiating with municipalities, he said.
“If at the end of it, as has just been shown, the government is willing to put them in unwilling hosts, those people get nothing at the end of negotiations,” Hardeman said. “If it is going to be approved anyway in the next round, why would any of the developers negotiate in good faith with any municipality? Because in the end they are going to go there anyway.
“If the municipality doesn’t have to be accommodated at the end of the project, then why would the developer even try?”
Hardeman said the Green Energy Act can be used to override municipal planning authority.
“To change the rules so the developers don’t need to obey the local planning laws or have any regard for the local planning laws is, I think, unheard of, regardless of what government it is until now,” he said.
The Green Energy Act can also be used to overturn rulings against energy projects by the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), Hardeman said.
Hardeman said that even during the 1990s, when the Conservative government of Mike Harris downloaded and uploaded provincial and municipal services, the changes, which in the end cost municipalities more than the province, were done after two years of consultations with the municipalities.
“There are no similarities to what they are doing now and what that was,” he said. “We didn’t take their planning rights away or any powers they had that they can use on anyone except the provincial contract.”
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