On May 6, 2013, Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli directed the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) to consult with stakeholders across the province and jointly develop recommendations for a new integrated regional energy planning process which would focus on improving how large energy infrastructure projects are sited in the Province. Among other matters, the Minister sought recommendations on how to improve the involvement of municipalities and Aboriginal communities in the development of regional energy plans.

Stakeholders were consulted both in-person and on-line during June and July, including First Nations and Métis, municipalities, local electricity distribution companies, energy stakeholders and the general public. Feedback from stakeholders indicated a need for increased transparency in planning, procurement and siting of facilities, education as to who makes which decisions and meaningful early involvement in the planning process before procurement and siting decisions are made. First Nations and Métis representatives indicated the need for in-person consultation early in the planning process, which would not however supersede the duty to consult. A review of how other jurisdictions make energy infrastructure siting decisions was also undertaken.

The OPA and the IESO recently issued a joint report entitled “Engaging Local Communities in Ontario’s Electricity Planning Continuum” that recommends a number of preliminary process improvements. The cover letter to the Minister notes that the recommendations would benefit from further review and comment by other Ministries, agencies, association and other stakeholders and proposes a further report to the Minister in September with more detailed implementation proposals. A notable recommendation speaks to the establishment of regional electricity planning Advisory Committees consisting of elected officials, elected First Nations and Métis community representatives, economic development officers, and other community/business representatives.

Another recommendation of note is intended to address the current disconnect between planning for energy infrastructure and the municipal land use planning process. Amendments are proposed to Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS) which sets out the Province’s policies for land use planning. Ontario’s Planning Act requires that all planning-related decisions of municipal councils including Official Plans, planning boards, Ministries and ministry boards, commissions or agencies of the government, including the Ontario Municipal Board, be consistent with policy statements issued by the Province. The effect of the recommended amendments to the PPS would mandate that where need is defined for electricity infrastructure, such decisions be consistent with an Electricity Plan which is broadly defined to include “an Integrated Regional Resource Plan (Transmission System Code), a Regional Infrastructure Plan (Transmission System Code), an Integrated Power System Plan (Electricity Act, 1998) that identifies the need for electrical investments (e.g. conservation and demand management, generation, transmission facilities, and/or distribution facilities) on a province-wide or region-wide basis”. The proposed definition also states that an Electricity Plan may also identify conceptually preferred locations for electricity infrastructure.