Behind closed doors: who is really setting Ontario’s energy policies?

Parker Gallant: Who really sets Ontario’s Energy Policies?

(October 7, 2013)

In Ontario it’s a well-known fact that the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA) was developed because a small group of people convinced a past Energy Minister, George Smitherman, it was needed. That group, the Green Energy Act Alliance (GEAA), even claim they helped him write the Act!

 

Several ministers later and things haven’t changed even though current Energy Minister, Bob Chiarelli has talked a lot about engaging communities, smaller municipalities and other stakeholders in revisions to the siting of gas, wind and solar generating plants. Minister Chiarelli has even invited input on revisions to the Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP). Despite the rhetoric however, it still appears that the time spent by all but the environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) will fall on deaf ears.

The writing was on the wall from the first announcement by Minister Chiarelli on April 16, 2013, when he was the keynote speaker at the Ontario Power Conference, where he told all present that revisions to siting, the feed-in tariff (FIT) program and the LTEP would shortly occur and that Ontarians would have a chance to provide input. Since that announcement the renewable energy approvals (REAs) issued by the Ministry of the Environment have not stopped. All have been issued without the consultations that were promised by Minister Chiarelli back on that April day!

In keeping with the way the ENGOs had influenced previous energy ministers, it came as no great shock that OSEA (Ontario Sustainable Energy Association – the ENGO behind the GEAA) had had a one-on-one meeting with Minister Chiarelli in early June and posted their letter of thanks to the minister on their website!

The foregoing discovery led to a freedom of information (FOI) request to the Ministry of Energy by the writer, sent August 26, 2013, shortly after an article in the Ottawa Citizen. The article in the Citizen carried the story about how 62 communities (now 69)  had declared themselves “unwilling hosts” for any industrial wind turbines at a meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). The article went on to say that Premier Wynne had approached OSEA: “Wynne has asked the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association to raise awareness in communities slated for the turbine projects about the benefits of hosting, including the financial gains that can come from being power generators in a cash-strapped economy.”

Interestingly enough the Wynne engagement of OSEA would seem to be nothing more than a PR endeavour with OSEA launching a program they call “Green Energy Doors Open” which, on October 5 showcased the iconic small, useless Exhibition Place wind turbine as well as another group of events meant to convince communities of the wonders of renewable energy. It is unlikely that the 69 “unwilling host” communities will buy into what OSEA is selling.

The FOI asked for a copy of Minister Chiarelli’s diary in respect to any meeting(s) he had with any ENGOs from the date of his April 16, 2013 announcement. The response was received a few days ago.

As it turns out, the minister met with several ENGOs. The first meeting occurred on April 18 and the last on June 26, 2013. The first meeting was with the Ontario Clean Air Alliance and doesn’t identify who the minister met with but expect that it would have been Jack Gibbons and perhaps Angela Bischoff who show up on their website as the only staff. We note that the OCAA does not appear to be registered with the Ontario Lobbyist Registry.

As a matter of interest the OCAA show total revenues for their 2012 year were a shade over $120,000. Considering the expense associated with having an office in downtown Toronto there wouldn’t be much left to pay those two employees! Do these two staff work for free like the people fighting to keep industrial wind turbines away from their communities?

The second meeting with Minister Chiarelli was with three individuals from Environmental Defence whom he met with on May 7 and again on June 26. In the latter case, it appears that only Gillian McEachern, the campaign director, attended. I would note that Ms. McEachern is not listed as an ED’s representative on the Lobbyist Registry. The third meeting that Minister Chiarelli had was on June 3with three members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). A search of the Lobbyist Registry came up blank for CAPE. Tagging along for that meeting were the two members of the Asthma Society of Canada (not found in the Lobbyist Registry) and one representative (senior economist Kim Jarvi) of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario who were registered but Mr. Jarvi was not listed as their representative. The meeting with OSEA occurred on June 4.

The question now becomes, exactly how much influence will those meetings (each a minimum of 45 minutes in length) have on what we will see in the way of changes to the siting of industrial wind turbines or gas plants and changes in the FIT program or the LTEP?

In the latter stages (July 16, 2013) of the Energy Minister’s announcements came one that jumped on the “Conservation” bandwagon, which has been aggressively promoted by those who met with Minister Chiarelli. These ENGOs did exactly that in their testimonials, putting “conservation” first. The support came from: CAPE, OCAA, Pembina, Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance (CEEA), Ryerson University and the Electricity Distributors Association (EDA). One would expect that the CAPE, OCCA, CEEA, Pembina ENGO crowd would be quick to add their support but what of the latter two? Well, one can only suspect that Ryerson University’s, President, Sheldon Levy, knew that endorsing the “conservation” movement would result in a favourable announcement on August 26 that would disclose Ryerson was chosen to receive provincial funds to establish a “smart grid laboratory”. In respect to the endorsement by the Chairman of the EDA, perhaps the fact that Chiarelli has done absolutely nothing about the recommendations contained in the Ontario Distribution Sector Review Panel’s report may have been sufficient for him to endorse the concept.

Now if one delves further into the various relationships between the ENGOs that add their weight by endorsing Minister Chiarelli’s announcement, one should go to an August 2013 study released by “BLUE GREEN CANADA” posted on the Environmental Defence website: “BLUE GREEN CANADA is an alliance between Canadian labour unions, environmental and civil society organizations to advocate for working people and the environment by promoting solutions to environmental issues.”

BLUE GREEN occupy the same premises as Environmental Defence and the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance and their members are identified as: United Steelworkers Union, Environmental Defence, CEP (Community, Energy & Paperworkers Union), Columbia Institute (an offshoot of Working Enterprises– a group of union enterprises), Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada, an offshoot of Tides Canada. The “BLUE GREEN study does not identify the authors but is full of unsupported rhetoric; promising 25,000 jobs, reduction of the Provincial and Federal deficits by $1-billion each, cutting global warming pollution by 9% and the biggest lie in the study: “We use less energy and pay lower bills as a result.”

The unfortunate part of this whole ministerial exercise is that the ENGOs have set past policies for the Energy Ministry and appear to have the current energy minister firmly under their control.

The policy changes we are likely to see later this fall, (after the Auditor General releases her report on the costs of the Oakville gas plant move), will be reflective of what the ENGOs have recommended to Minister Chiarelli. We should not expect any radical change to the GEA or any deviation from the original targets for wind and solar generation that formed the backbone of the LTEP.

Minister Chiarelli is well aware that the Ontario Liberal Party is dependent on donations from the unions and the many corporations that rushed to Ontario to erect industrial wind turbines and plant solar panels. In 2011 they collectively donated $1.4 million to the OLP and the unions, via Working Families, along with Environmental Defence and OSEA and other ENGOs spent millions condemning the Ontario PC party because of their promise to kill the GEA.

Ontario’s ratepayers will be stuck with the same energy policies that George Smitherman promised us would only raise our electricity rates by 1% – which has become one of the Liberal’s biggest lies.

Keep on smiling; only two years left before the next provincial election or sooner, if Andrea Horvath decides to finally pull the plug!

 

Parker Gallant is a retired bank executive and a former director of Energy Probe Research Foundation. As with all independent bloggers on this site, Parker’s views do not necessarily reflect those of Energy Probe.

Citizens of Prince Edward County fight on for the environment

Here, from The Wellington Times, is Rick Conroy’s update on the fight to save the environment at Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County.

 

Reloading

Gellespie-Standing

Eric Gillespie speaks to a gathering of the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists last week in Bloomfield.

PECFN readies for courtroom battle to defend Ostrander Point from MOE and developer

It was an evening to celebrate—to recognize a most improbable win against two powerful adversaries. It was also time to begin preparations for the next battle to save Ostrander Point from the development of industrial wind turbines.

The Prince Edward County Field Naturalists (PECFN) gathered last week at a hall in Bloomfield for a feast of homemade casseroles, salads and squares to rejoice in the Environmental Review Tribunal decision to revoke the approval of a nine industrial wind turbine project on Ostrander Point on south shore of Prince Edward County. The Tribunal ruled that the impact of the project and the roadway necessary to access each 500-foot structure would cause ‘serious and irreversible harm’ to the Blanding’s turtle

“We won,” proclaimed Myrna Wood, PECFN chair. “We knew we could win. We knew that if anyone took an objective look at the sensitive nature on our south shore they would not allow this kind of development to happen here.”

PECFN was joined in their celebratory supper by their lawyer, Eric Gillespie, and associate lawyer, Natalie Smith. Gillespie told the jubilant gathering that their victory has inspired hope across the province for those working to protect their homes, communities and natural ecosystems from the harmful impact of industrial wind turbines.

“You have shown you can change what seemed inevitable,” said Gillespie. “No doubt in my mind there would be turbines on Ostrander Point right now if not for you.”

GIRDING FOR BATTLE
Gillespie reported that the next stage in this struggle was now set for January. It is then that the Ontario Divisional Court will, over four days, hear an appeal to the Tribunal’s ruling to revoke the approval given to Gilead Power Corporation by the Ministry of Environment.

Both the Ministry and the developer are challenging the Tribunal’s ruling. They are expected to argue the Tribunal panel overstepped its authority— that it was up to the Ministry of Natural Resources to determine how best to deal with the Blanding’s turtle, not the Tribunal.

They will argue that it was inappropriate for the Tribunal to hear new evidence on matters they contend were settled in the Renewables Energy Approval (REA). They will argue the Tribunal extended its reach beyond that of an appeal mechanism to that of a secondary review— and that if it ruling is upheld, it will fundamentally alter the REA process.

But Gillespie says it’s too late to rewind the clock.

“The time to raise this issue was over a year ago,” said Gillespie. “It is a little late now. Why did we sit there day after day listening to expert testimony?

He will argue that the MOE and the developer each understood that new evidence would be presented. In fact, both produced its own experts who testified in the many days of Tribunal hearings. Gillespie says that they can’t now challenge the Tribunal authority after they participated in the process without objection.

Myrna Woods believes the developer considered the Tribunal review a slam dunk. But now, with millions and millions invested in this project, Gilead had no option but to appeal.

For the Ministry of Environment the motivation is less clear. During the Tribunal, its lawyers were in the awkward position of arguing against an array of conservancy groups to allow a developer to devastate the ecosystem of endangered species. Now it must argue that its own review mechanism, the Tribunal, is faulty and broken.

In the wake of the notoriety around the fight to keep industrial wind turbines from Ostrander Point, and the Ministry of Natural Resources role in its approval, the provincial agency has quietly changed the name of its permit to harm, harass and kill and endangered species. According to Gillespie, Ministry officials didn’t like how it sounded in media reports, so they now refer to it as the overall benefit provision.

REACHING FURTHER
Gillespie will also argue in January that while the Tribunal’s decision was correct as it affects the Blanding’s turtle—it did not go far enough. PECFN will ask the Divisional Court to reconsider the Tribunal’s ruling regarding birds and the alvar habitat. The Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County will appeal its conclusion on the impact of industrial wind turbines on human health.

“If the Tribunal’s same principles are applied to other aspects of the evidence,” said Gillespie, “you could reach the same conclusion about harm in relation to birds, the alvar habitat and human health. The appellants are not disagreeing with the Tribunals findings—just that they be extended a bit.”

Gillespie says the evidence given by bird experts, alvar experts and human health officials was compelling.

PECFN will ask the court to look at these aspects again, and come to another conclusion.

But it is a seemingly contradictory exercise to defend the Tribunal’s decision while simultaneously challenging it before appeal court.

“The decision is 140 pages long,” Gillespie told the Times. “It would be surprising for anyone to read a book and agree with every word the author wrote. There were a number of very complex issues before the Tribunal. We believe their premise was correct—there should not be industrial wind turbines on that site. We are building on the Tribunal’s foundation—not undermining it in any way.

SHIFTING GROUND
Gillespie noted that the success on the legal front is being matched by a shifting political tone coming from the provincial government.

“Queen’s Park knows that something is wrong with these projects,” said Gillespie. “They have learned that from you. The decision made here in the County is the precedent. This Tribunal decision will be looked at and relied upon in every other such appeal.”

He suggests new renewable energy approvals now come with greater and greater risk.

“It was a historical and legal landmark,” said Gillespie. “The approval wasn’t modified. It wasn’t restricted. It was revoked. It is, we believe, the first time in North America that a approval for a wind turbine project has been taken away.”

PECFN used the celebratory dinner to make the final payment in Gillespie’s Tribunal appeal bill. So far the Field Naturalists have raised $111,617 much of that used toward the Tribunal appeal. But more will be needed to fund the January appeal. PECFN has estimated this will cost about $50,000. For more information about how you can contribute to this struggle go to saveostranderpoint.org

THE FINISH LINE?
Gillespie was asked if the decision of the Divisional Court, expected next spring, would be the final word on the fate of the Ostrander Point industrial wind turbine project.

“It might be,” said Gillespie acknowledging it wasn’t the answer the room wanted to hear. “Technically it could also go to the Ontario Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court of Canada. But they would have to get leave to do so—and only a very small percentage of cases are permitted to do so. The odds and statistics are against it.”