Ontario continues to struggle with the thorny issue of siting large energy infrastructure. The Liberal government of former premier Dalton McGuinty found itself embroiled in a major controversy about locating two gas plants in the southwest Greater Toronto Area. An all-party committee of the current minority Ontario Legislature continues its review of the cancellation of these two plants in Mississauga and Oakville before and during the last provincial election. The costs of these two cancellations will certainly range well north of $500 million. And just this past week, the Greater Toronto Area was hit with heavy flooding and widespread power outages as a result of yet another unusual weather occurrence.
Against this backdrop, the new Wynne government has made clear its desire to find a better way to site power plants and related transmission facilities. In the Speech from the Throne which opened the Spring Session of the Legislature, the government emphasized its plans to find ‘willing hosts ‘ for such energy projects. Shortly thereafter in early May, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli wrote to both the Ontario Power Authority (OPA)and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) asking them to develop specific recommendations “ for a new integrated regional energy planning process that will focus on improving how large energy infrastructure projects are sited in Ontario”.
The Minister has requested that the OPA and the IESO conduct detailed consultations with municipalities, Aboriginal communities and other stakeholders and submit a joint report to him by August 1st 2013. Minister Chiarelli has asked for a report that contains ‘ concrete proposals’ regarding how a regional energy plan might be developed, ‘ transparent mechanisms’ for community engagement, and processes for ensuring that municipalities are seriously involved in siting major energy infrastructure. Finally, the Minister has asked for recommendations on how to implement such regional energy planning processes with ‘specific advice on related policy and regulatory changes’.
Consultations are well underway and there is every expectation that the OPA and the IESO will be able to file a joint report to the Minister by the end of July. Meanwhile, the Legislative Committee on Justice Policy continues its high-profile investigation of the gas-plant controversy. With five provincial by-elections now underway for August 1st, Ontarians should expect to be hearing a good deal more about siting energy infrastructure over the coming weeks and months. Interested parties would be well advised to pay attention to this issue of regional energy planning. Policy makers must find a way to deal with growing resistance in both urban and rural communities to siting critical infrastructure especially at a time when weather patterns seem to be underlining the urgency of the matter.