Ontario announced its Green Energy and Green Economy Act with much fanfare last week. Heralded as "bold " and "ambitious" by some environmentalists, and criticized as greenwashing by others, the Act creates incentives for renewable energy development.
Last week on Living at the Barricades, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper talked to one of the architects of the green energy act, David Donnelly. The arguments in favour of this kind of legislation, described in that interview and on the Green Energy Act Alliance's website, include a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to create economic development opportunities.
The green energy act could bring about a new approach to environmental protection and economic growth for Ontario, but the first draft of the legislation contains enough red flags to warrant a closer look.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper shares concerns that the Act does little to discourage dirty power projects such as the Pickering and Darlington nuclear expansions. The Act also minimizes opportunities for public participation, undermines municipal authority, and introduces secrecy to the decision-making process.
"The Ontario government should be commended for its enthusiasm," says Waterkeeper Mark Mattson. "That said, in order to be successful, the Act needs to do more to respect transparency and public consultation. The province has expanded the authority of the Ontario Energy Board to consider environmental issues, which is a much-needed improvement. They now need to update the rest of their energy policies to move away from dirty, 'ungreen' technologies such as nuclear power and centralized systems."
The Green Energy and Green Economy Act is 65 pages long and amends 18 other statutes including the Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Bill of Rights. It does not appear to amend the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act.
Of particular interest:
- Sections 10 and 11 of the Act create a renewable energy facilitation office to help guide proponents through the licencing process, which sounds similar to the federal government's Major Projects Management Office. All information collected by this facilitator will be confidential and cannot be released to the public, which raises potential concerns about transparency, accountability, and legitimacy in the decision-making process.
- Schedule D adds conservation, smart grid, and renewable energy promotion to the objectives of the Ontario Energy Board. In the past, the OEB was only able to consider issues such as cost effectiveness and economic efficiency.
- Schedule G creates "one stop shopping" for all licences related to a green energy project, such as Certificates of Approval for air emissions, waste sites, water-takings, and sewage works. It appears as though consultation will still be done through the Ontario Environmental Registry, but it is not clear if members of the public will have to comment on all issues within one 30-day time period. This short window of opportunity for public input would undermine meaningful consultation. (In the past, the public would have at least 30 days for each individual licence.)
- The public can still appeal a licence to the Environmental Review Tribunal, but the grounds for appeal are quite different. Under the current system, a citizen can appeal a licence if it was issued unreasonably and if the licence could result in significant environmental harm. In the future, the Tribunal may no longer be empowered to consider issues of fairness or unreasonableness, and citizens will be required to prove that serious and irreversible harm to the environment will occur. This test doesn't seem to be consistent with the Ministry of the Environment's Statement of Environmental Values, which requires a precautionary approach to decision-making and consideration for the entire ecosystem. It may also put communities facing historic pollution at a disadvantage, undermining efforts to restore the Great Lakes environment.
- Schedule K eliminates municipalities' powers to regulate green energy projects.
The Green Energy and Green Economy Act passed First Reading in the Ontario Legislature on February 23, 2009. Second reading debate is ongoing. At some point soon, the Act will be posted to the Environmental Registry for comment. Members of the public should also have an opportunity to make recommendations to the committee if the Bill passes second reading.
Listen to Living at the Barricades.
The Green Energy Act and what it means for you (Feb. 24, 2009)
On this week's show, Krystyn and Mark look at the reasoning behind Ontario's new Green Energy Act, and speak with David Donnelly of the Green Energy Act Alliance, and some of the different ways to make green power work in the province.
Music on today's show:
Fight the Power - Public Enemy
Redemption Song - Bob Marley
Electric Avenue - Skindred