Renewable Energy Approval Lessons Learned: Start Talking and Don’t Stop!

By Andrea McDowell

The Renewable Energy Approval (“REA”) process was introduced along with the Feed-In Tariff program in 2009, with the intent of streamlining approvals for renewable energy projects in Ontario. In the legislation, it sounded so simple, but in reality it was anything but.  This “Lessons Learned” document was written by Andrea McDowell, who has worked on 13 REAs in the last 2.5 years.

Public Consultation According to Chris Turner, a Canadian environmental journalist and author, public opposition alone makes Ontario the most challenging jurisdiction for wind energy development in the world. While the regulations state that only two public meetings are required for approvals, in practice, many more opportunities for consultation will be needed, particularly in areas of high opposition, in order to demonstrate a sincere effort to establish relationships and address all issues of concern. Workshops, toll-free telephone lines, Community Liaison Committees and more are all tools you may want to consider. With the eventual release of the new request for proposal ("RFP") process and its emphasis on “willing host” communities, municipal and public consultation are likely to be even more important—even before a contract is awarded.

First Nations Consultation The approach used to aboriginal consultation can make the difference between project success and failure. While many First Nations communities are active participants in and even developers of renewable energy projects, others are less supportive of such projects, and often the difference is the frequency, timing and content of communications over the project life cycle.

Municipal Consultation Premier Wynne’s commitment to ensuring that renewable energy projects must be sited within “willing host” communities will add further complexity to what was already a complex process. While the regulation commits developers only to communicating with municipalities through written notices, documents, and the Municipal Consultation Form, in practice, this is far from sufficient to reassure the MOE that the municipalities’ needs and interests have been properly taken into account. Indeed, in the future, developers will receive bonus points on contract applications for documented efforts to engage with municipalities before the contract is even awarded.

Natural Heritage Assessments The regulations state only that an investigation must be done of the lands and waters within 120 metres of your project location. However, since the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources ("MNR") must approve of that investigation in writing, they have a lot of discretion in determining what constitutes a good-enough investigation. A lot of little pieces need to be put together in just the right way to make sure all of the required site visits are carried out at the right time and in the right order to make sure precious time is not wasted in obtaining your approvals.

Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Assessments
Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Studies are not the same thing. Different experts with
different qualifications will be required to complete a study that meets with the approval of the
Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport ("MTCS").

Noise Receptor Crystallization
In order to balance a community’s right to know the proposed location of project infrastructure
with the developer’s right not to have that used against them, the Ontario Ministry of
Environment ("MOE") developed a process where wind developers could release a draft site
plan to the public and freeze or “crystallize” the locations of noise receptors to be considered in the noise report. This critical step, properly managed, can significantly reduce developmental
risk. However, any mistake can lead to new noise receptors that can eliminate proposed turbine
locations or your entire project. The notice, Draft Site Plan, and supporting documents must all
be prepared with the greatest care to ensure a positive outcome.