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Why sacrifice the Greenbelt for a private power plant? And why is municipal opposition being swept away? Are municipalities important and trustworthy partners on the environment? Only when it suits the province.

The Municipal Act was revised a few years ago to give municipalities much greater powers and respect on a wide variety of topics, notably including the environment. But at the same time, a growing number of provincial laws sweep away municipal objections to provincial projects. These include the Clean Water Act, the Niagara Escarpment Protection Act, the Green Energy Act, etc.

The latest is an exemption for a gas fired power plant in the Greenbelt.The Greenbelt was meant to save a small, precious arc of green around the Greater Toronto Area from the relentless pressure of development. Now, part of it will be permanently sacrificed to cut the cost of building a privately-owned power plant for York Region.

For over a year, the Township of King has fought against the proposed construction of so-called Pristine Power’s

$365 million York Energy Centre[i] – a 393-megawatt (MW) natural gas-fired peaking facility to be operated under a 20 year contract with the Ontario Power Authority. [ii], [iii] The latest battle occurred during a three-day Ontario Municipal Board hearing in April,[iv] but it will no longer matter. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently posted a proposed regulation to exempt the Pristine Power project from the Ontario Planning Act, 1990, and the OMB.[v]

Sections 62.0.1 and 70(h) of the Planning Act provide that the York Energy Centre project would no longer be subject to land use approvals. Thus, it would be exempt from the Township of King’s recently enacted interim control bylaw for electricity undertakings; [vi],[vii] and can be built despite municipal objections.

The province argues that this exemption is necessary for the good of the greater public, as it will help provide a reliable supply of energy despite the phase out of  coal-fired generation by 2014. But it’s yet another reminder of how hard it is to protect any green area from development for long. There is always a “good reason” to use “just part” of the protected land, and almost never possible to restore the lost land elsewhere. We need the power, but did we really need to have it there?

By Dianne Saxe and Jessica Yuan

[i] Gail Swainson. (April 6, 2010). The Toronto Star, Holland Marsh farmers oppose power plant.

[ii] Pristine Power Inc. (May 28, 2010). Pristine Power Inc. Provides Update on York Energy Centre

[iii] Ontario Power Authority. Generation Development, Simple Cycle/Combined Cycle (Clean Energy): York Energy Centre (393 MW) – Northern York Region

[iv] Anna Mehler Paperny. (June 3, 2010). Globe and Mail, Province pushing through Greenbelt power plant

[v] Environmental Registry. (May 28, 2010). Proposed Lieutenant Governor in Council (LGIC) regulation made under the Planning Act to prescribe an undertaking that relates to energy.

[vi] Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. (May 28, 2010). Newsroom, Proposal to Exempt York Energy Centre from Planning Act

[vii] Pristine Power Inc. (May 28, 2010). Pristine Power Inc. Provides Update on York Energy Centre

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