Municipal councils should have authority over the approval of renewable energy projects within their jurisdictions.
Earlier this summer, Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) released a list of nearly 1,000 projects that were approved during the latest round of the province’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program.
More than 20 of those projects are located in Haliburton County, a proverbial handful in each of the townships of Algonquin Highlands and Minden Hills.
While approval of projects does not hinge on municipal support, applicants receive what are called “priority points” if they receive support resolutions from local councils. Support from councils helps projects get approved and, according to the IESO, 92 per cent of the projects approved during the latest round of FIT applications received municipal support.
While this is true of the projects that will proceed in Algonquin Highlands, it is not true of the projects that will proceed in Minden Hills. They did not receive support resolutions from council.
This is problematic.
Municipal councillors are the elected gatekeepers of a community. They possess local knowledge that individuals working for organizations such as the IESO simply do not have. They know their communities, the topography of those communities and (hopefully) the needs and wants of their constituents.
It’s true that Minden Hills council took a fairly hard line against the many FIT applications that came across its table last year. Given the volume of applications, council decided it wanted to establish some sort of framework for assessing them instead of granting or denying approval on a case-by-case, patchwork basis.
A renewable energy task force has since been struck and a policy tabled.
Yes, the projects approved in Minden Hills are relatively small in scale, but what if they weren’t? What if a 300-acre solar farm had been approved despite lack of support from council?
In Ontario there have been and continue to be instances where provincial bodies enforce their will on communities despite the protestations of those communities. This has happened in various places with the establishment of wind turbines and it happened last year in Algonquin Highlands with the establishment of a septage-spreading field near Maple Lake. In the latter case, after investigating legalities, Algonquin Highlands council resigned itself to the fact there was basically nothing it could do.
Meanwhile, the province continues to download more responsibilities to municipalities, one of the most recent examples septic tank inspections, a duty that once belonged to health units.
With power comes responsibility, right? If municipalities are trusted enough to continually be given more responsibilities, shouldn’t they also be respected enough to be given more power?
Approval of FIT projects should ultimately lie with municipal councils. In cases where applicants feel they are being unfairly denied, an appeal system could be established, the same way residents who disagree with planning decisions of councils can appeal those decisions with the Ontario Municipal Board.