WCO request to Ombudsman in “early stages of consideration”

QP Briefing
April 15, 2014
Grassroots group asks Marin to shine a light on wind power

A vocal anti-wind development group is calling on Ombudsman André Marin to investigate what it calls a “lack of transparency” in how renewable energy approvals are granted.

“Municipalities, in particular, are really getting fed up with being promised more say [over wind projects] but really things haven’t changed very much,” said Jane Wilson, spokeswoman for Wind Concerns Ontario.

By the time municipalities know about wind power projects coming to their region, many aspects of the build have already been determined, she told QP Briefing Monday. Couple that with a lack of full disclosure on projects approved by the Ministry of the Environment and municipal governments and citizen groups feel left out of decision-making, she said.

“When companies come in and start leasing land, there is no documentation, no engineering reports made available to anyone about where these projects are going to go,” Wilson said.

What’s more, she claims that projects “deemed complete” by the MOE often have not completed, submitted or made public all of the necessary documentation for where turbines or access roads will be located.

On April 8, her organization filed a six-page letter with Marin’s office suggesting he investigate the lack of transparency in the Renewable Energy Approval process. Marin received expanded powers under the new provincial accountability act.

The current permitting process is “placing many municipalities in an awkward situation relative to concerns being raised by their residents,” the letter stated.

Some of those concerns include:

The need for transparency and full disclosure in how projects are approved.
How renewable energy approvals are processed.
How the Environmental Review Tribunal conducts cases.

“We are requesting more stringent guidelines as to how companies should behave and in the case of documentation being provided by the developers, that complete really means complete,” Wilson said. “We are looking for the Ombudsman to say [to a wind company]: ‘The rules are the rules and here are the rules and what you should be doing.’ ”

And the rules governing renewable energy companies are changing. In a May, 2013, sop to anti-wind activists and angry municipalities, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli introduced measures to give municipal governments greater say over if and how renewable projects operate in their backyards.

The feed-in-tariff program for large-scale developments was replaced with a competitive bidding process based on the idea that any company looking to secure a contract for wind development now has to possess municipal support for its plan. This is an increasingly tough sell when many Southern and Eastern Ontario townships are declaring themselves “unwilling hosts.”

Ultimately, Chiarelli’s FIT changes fell short of a veto over future wind developments near residential areas, which is what many communities are after.

Marin spokeswoman Linda Williamson told QP Briefing Monday the request from Wind Concerns Ontario has been received and is in the early stages of consideration. “As with any complaint we receive, our staff will assess it to determine whether or not an investigation is warranted.”

Marin has received dozens of complaints regarding wind turbines — such as noise and siting — but determined in 2009 and again in 2011 the issue did not deserve a special investigation, such as the one being requested now.

The Ombudsman currently has a full caseload, including investigations into over billing by Hydro One, the de-escalation of lethal force by police services and the lack of accessibility services for adults with developmental disabilities.

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