By Richard Carlson - InfraInsights Global Expert
For decades Ontario, Canada, has struggled to gain public support for some aspects of electricity policies and plans. Too often, longer-term plans are battered by short-term controversies. These controversies, experienced by successive governments, arise from shortcomings in Ontario’s planning process, most notably a lack of clarity around the role of the public.Energy assets are long-term investments that require long-term plans. Such plans produce policy consistency and certainty over time. This certainty can only come from an open decision-making process that subjects plans to public scrutiny and debate, with clearly defined roles for elected officials, the public and energy experts. Only through improved processes can Ontario secure the social licence necessary to move forward with ambitious electricity plans.
This report identifies ten principles centred on transparency, accountability and public engagement that, if incorporated into the planning process, would lead to greater public support for long-term energy plans. Ontario and five other electricity jurisdictions (New South Wales in Australia, British Columbia, Great Britain, New York State, and Sweden – as well as an example outside the energy industry – Ontario’s Metrolinx) are then measured against the principles.
Compared to Ontario, other jurisdictions incorporate greater democratic review and accountability in planning and are able to secure greater public support for long-term plans. Our conclusion from this is that public input and democratic engagement need to be strengthened in Ontario. This could happen in two ways: through enhanced clarity around the role of the legislature and through more meaningful public consultations and public advocacy. The Ontario government has given indications that it is moving in the direction of more community engagement with electricity plans. For example, the Ontario government has instructed the Ontario Power Authority and the Independent Electricity System Operator to develop a new regional energy planning process that incorporates input from municipalities, communities and the energy sector.
The report concludes that the legislative and governance framework required for effective electricity planning already exists to a large extent. The recommendations made in this report build upon that foundation and are grouped into four themes: public engagement, good governance, integration and transparency. Taken together, they would deepen the public conversations needed to ensure a secure, sustainable and affordable electricity future.