Almost half of Canadians do not have reliable access to high-speed internet says the CRTC. But when it comes to informing the public about new power generation proposals in Ontario, how does the IESO allow developers to inform the public? You guessed it…
December 27, 2022
In today’s National Post is an excellent article on Canada’s rural communities’ access to internet.
The title says it all: “Inaccessible and unreliable”.
“Canadians living in rural areas have long been some of the least connected to reliable and affordable high-speed internet service,” writes Jessica Mundie in today’s article.
“They suffer some of the slowest speeds, faultiest connections and highest prices.
“The lack of accessibility, reliability and affordability of most rural internet service is just pillar of the digital divide, the gap between those who have access to modern information and communications technology, and those who have been left behind.”
How bad is it?
According to the National Post article, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), just over half of rural communities across the country are estimated to have access to unlimited high-speed internet that meets the federal government’s universal service objective.
Ontario rural communities waiting
The Ontario government knows that rural communities lack reliable internet service and is investing $4B to “help connect all Ontarians to high-speed internet by 2025.”
That doesn’t help much right now when the Independent Electricity System Operator or IESO has launched a procurement program for new electricity capacity. The Long-Term Request for Proposals or LT-RFP was released December 7, to acquire 1,000 megawatts of electricity resources.
The simple fact is, proposals for anything related to grid-scale power, even battery storage facilities, require land to move forward not only for the project itself but also for associated infrastructure such as transformer substations and other equipment. That means rural areas in many cases.
But will the people be informed?
Developers proposing new power projects are required to hold one (one!) public meeting which, the IESO says, can be —you guessed it — a “virtual” event.
Not only that, but developers proposing more than one project can gang up the details on all projects into a single public meeting, again, virtual, as long as, the IESO says, there is a website available for each project proposal.
Been there, done that
Ontario’s rural residents have seen this before. When proposals were finally revealed to rural communities under the Green Energy Act (by the time people found out about them, deals were already inked and contracts were a “done deal” people were told), access to the documents was generally by internet. Hard copies of the project documents were supposed to be available at municipal offices but for some people, that required a drive of several hours.
In short, not accessible.
Here we go again.
With the IESO’s LT-RFP, proposals will be submitted in the next few weeks with public meetings taking place to present details.
Unless power developers use other means of communication such as postal mail, email, and advertisements in local and community newspapers, many rural residents will simply not be able to participate.
The communications goal: inclusivity and respect
The IESO says the process will include everybody. According to its “Engagement principles,” the IESO wants the process to be “conducted with integrity towards an efficient and effective process. The public, for these purposes, refers to market participants, stakeholders, communities, First Nations and Métis peoples, customers and the general public. …The IESO will use these principles to ensure inclusiveness, sincerity, respect and fairness in its engagements, striving to build trusting relationships as a result.”
Hard to imagine how that can be accomplished if possibly as much as half of rural residents cannot reliably tune into Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings.
There has been a lot of criticism of the current IESO process which some municipalities commented was largely unchanged since the days of Dalton McGuinty and the Green Energy Act.
On Friday December 23rd, following a letter from the Minister of Energy, the Hon. Todd Smith, the IESO had to hurriedly announce changes to the application process and clarify the role of municipal support. The IESO had received comments from municipalities across the province and even the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) asking for clarification on this issue and were met with no response, or unsatisfactory answers.
On December 6th, IESO staff said in a pre-launch webinar that municipalities “have a fair bit of say” in the process of siting large scale power projects. That’s not the same as “final say” as promised by then energy minister Greg Rickford in 2019.
And now, it looks like a significant portion of Ontario’s population will be disenfranchised from even learning about new power projects.