The Green Energy Act will allow the province to put a six-month limit on environmental assessment and other approval processes for “green” energy projects. The precedent is the 2008 environmental assessment regime for transit projects. After projects such as the St. Clair streetcar were delayed by local opposition, vastly increasing their cost, the province decided to sweep away many of the approval obstacles to “green” projects.
Those who wish to build a transit project, for example, need not consult a province or the public on the “need” for the project, nor “alternatives to” it.They no longer have to justify why they selected that particular transit project, or how it fits into their overall plan. Instead, the proponent simply selects the transit project they wish to be build and announces it to the public. They then have four months to study and document how they plan to manage any significant environmental impacts of that project. The public has one month to object; the Minister of the Environment then has one month to block the project. Transit projects may only be blocked for major reasons, such as matters of provincial significance and conflicts with aboriginal rights. Although this shortened process does not meet international standards for environmental assessment, Ontario has decided that it is more important to get green projects built than it is to have better environmental assessments of them.
We will probably now see the same approach applied to renewable energy projects. It will still be important, for example, not to site wind turbines along bat migration paths, but we will err on the side of building more green energy projects in more places much more quickly. Local opposition will still be relevant, but it will have much less effect. Aesthetic objections will be swept away, such as those of Scarborough residents who do not want to see wind turbines 2 kilometers away. Effective opposition will have to be based on the interests of the province as a whole, not on their preferences or feared impacts on property values.