Approval process for wind turbines must change: Wind Concerns Ontario to IESO

Municipalities were forced to “host” wind power projects without any say or proper public engagement. That can’t happen again says WCO [Photo: Wind Concerns Ontario]

August 11, 2022

The mistakes made under the McGuinty and Wynne governments in Ontario cannot be repeated in a new electricity procurement effort, community group coalition Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) has told the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

Commenting via an engagement opportunity, WCO recalled that prior to 2016, municipalities had wind power generation projects forced on them. The Green Energy Act was repealed in 2018 and municipal land use planning powers were returned, but the approval processes used by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the IESO have not changed.

The IESO has just launched a series of Long-Term Requests for Proposals (LT RFP) which will likely result in new proposals for wind power.

“Ontario municipalities could once again face the prospect of being told there is a proposal in play, but have nothing to say about it,” says WCO President Jane Wilson. “Last time, municipalities had very valid concerns about environmental impacts such as the effect of drilling turbine foundations into fragile aquifers—these were ignored, and in many cases, the bad things the municipalities said would happen, did happen.

“Ontario communities need to be listened to, and we need a better, more engaged process.”

An excerpt from the WCO comment:

“Community Engagement – The Roadmap makes no reference to a broader community engagement process. The bad experiences in rural Ontario as a result of a farcical community engagement process linked to renewable energy projects under the Green Energy and Green Economy Act have created a climate of distrust that will be a major barrier to moving forward with this initiative. Any community proposed as a host location for a project needs to be fully engaged separately from municipal consultation. A series of Zoom meetings are not going achieve this objective.  We see the following as key elements of an effective community engagement process:

    1. Participation While the proponent can lead community engagement sessions, the IESO should also be present at any local meetings.
    2. Public Notice – there are rules for public notices for meeting dealing with municipal zoning changes including notice to adjacent landowners that will be affected by the project, notice of the meeting posted on roads adjacent to the location; and advertising in local media.
    3. Availability of Information – Full details regarding the project should be posted online and available in printed form at convenient locations near the proposed site. If only preliminary information is available at the time of the public engagement session, a second one should be organized when the full information is available.   Material changes to the proposal after the public meeting should trigger a requirement for a new public engagement meeting.
    4. Format – The meeting should be in a town hall format with a sound system available that will allow everyone in attendance to hear questions and responses.
    5. Input for Municipality – The IESO should be responsible for preparing a report on the meeting for the municipality that fully documents any concerns raised by attendees at the meeting along with the responses provided by the proponent.
    6. Response to Input – Again, simply holding a public meeting is not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the engagement process. The IESO must ensure that the proponent actually modifies the project to reflect the input received from the community.
    7. Divergent Views within Municipality – Some large regional municipalities contain diverse urban and rural communities which may have divergent views on the project. This diversity of view may not be reflected in Council memberships which tend to be dominated by the urban communities due to the larger populations.  Any decision to support a project needs to reflect the portion of the municipality that will actually be hosting the physical elements of the project.  (An example of this is the City of Ottawa, where a climate change action plan stipulates 710 grid-scale wind turbines in the city’s rural areas; no public engagement has occurred, and many residents are completely unaware of the plans.) To ensure that these views are captured and reflected in the decision, the community engagement process needs to take place in sections of the municipality that would be hosting the proposed project, and any conflict in views between the municipal government and the community must be resolved in favour of the local community.”

Following the repeal of the Green Energy Act, Ontario municipalities can now develop their own zoning bylaws for noise, setbacks and other aspects of wind turbines, but only a few have taken those steps. 

Wind Concerns Ontario has recommended a 2-km setback which the group says is “conservative” but is reasonable, and in line with setback regulations in other jurisdictions.

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