The agency setting the ground rules for the next multi-billion-dollar round of wind farm development in Ontario says it can only go so far to meet demands for changes in its program to acquire more electricity.
Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which picked the winners in the last round, asked residents, wind farm developers, municipalities and First Nations how the controversial program could be improved.
A persistent theme in the 120 pages of responses was a call for municipalities to be given a veto over developments, a power stripped away by the Liberal government – to the anger of many municipalities – when it launched its green energy program.
“Municipal support must be a mandatory requirement. There must be greater consideration given to the impact of the power projects on the community, and on the people who must live near them,” wrote one respondent.
But Adam Butterfield, IESO’s manager of renewable energy procurement, said such a decision would have to be made by the provincial government.
“The feedback we get will be communicated up to the Ministry of Energy for them to consider any related policy changes. We provide our advice, as we always do, on these aspects. But at the end of the day there are some policy ones, such as the veto aspect, that are in the government’s purview,” he said.
In Southwestern Ontario, home to the largest wind farms in the province and the most wind turbines, the Liberal government’s decision to take away local control over where the highrise-sized turbines can be built left many centres joining a movement of so-called “unwilling host” communities for energy projects.
Butterfield said he doesn’t know how the government will respond to the latest feedback.
“To date they have been pretty firm that renewable energy is a provincial issue and so they haven’t been amenable to considering a (local) veto. We will provide the feedback up and see where things go over the course of the summer.”
Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a provincial coalition opposed to wind farms, said the survey responses show the process doesn’t respect Ontarians and their wishes for how their communities develop.
“The point is made repeatedly that the process for locating renewable power projects differs from any other sort of development – that there is little openness or transparency, and that municipalities ought to have real ‘say’ in where these power projects go,” Wilson wrote in an email.
“The comments are a resounding condemnation of the procurement process,” she added.
The IESO has been instructed by the government to procure another 600 megawatts of wind energy, with the contracts awarded by 2018.
The generating capacity is being added at a time when the IESO’s own forecasts project Ontario will remain in a surplus power position for at least a decade.
A report last year by Ontario’s auditor general concluded Ontarians paid $37 billion extra for power over the last eight years because of the government’s decisions to ignore its own planning process for new power generation projects.
Along with suggestions for a municipal veto, other respondents to the IESO survey called for more openness by companies about their plans and an end to non-disclosure agreements with property owners.
“Proponents intentionally misled, failed to follow the process (meeting and information distribution), and used other methods to ensure the community was misinformed and had little time to respond,” wrote one.
Other suggestions included making it mandatory for proponents to have majority Canadian ownership.
Several wind farm developers participating in the survey suggested the rules around “prohibited communication” need to be clarified.
“The unclear language required extensive legal advice and created a major hindrance which ultimately disrupted the formation of partnerships to create competitive bids in a timely manner,” the developer wrote.
The IESO posted the survey responses on its website, ieso.ca, with identifying information removed.
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