Province pushing through Greenbelt power plant

Precedent-setting legislation would neutralize attempts to fight it by King Township, farmers and environmentalists

Anna Mehler Paperny, Globe and Mail - June 3, 2010

The Ontario government is turning to precedent-setting legislation to push through a controversial gas-fired generator in the province’s protected Greenbelt.

As the legislature prepares to rise for the summer, the province is kicking off a consultation session on a regulation that would exempt a power plant from the Planning Act – effectively neutralizing opposition from King Township, the Greenbelt municipality where the generator would be located.

The township, which has fought the proposal for more than a year along with local residents and farmers groups, took the issue to the Ontario Municipal Board in April. They argue that the proposed 350-megawatt plant contravenes the province’s own Greenbelt legislation, put in place five years ago to protect Ontario’s rapidly shrinking green space.

The OMB hasn’t made a decision yet, but if the regulation passes after the 45-day consultation period, it will render moot those hearings and the hundreds of thousands the township has spent fighting the generator.

The province argues that electricity from the gas-fired plant is desperately needed to supply growing communities in the Northern York region – making the unprecedented regulation necessary to circumvent opposition that would jeopardize the area’s energy supply.

“The clock is ticking," Energy and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said in an interview on Wednesday. “If we do not get this plant in the ground and running by 2011 their energy supply will be at risk. … I think we have a responsibility to the people in that region and the businesses in that region to ensure they have a steady supply of energy.

“It’s not something you want to do, but it’s something you do when necessary to ensure that the community’s protected."

But putting the generator there – and circumventing the OMB’s processes to do so – “violates an important principle" of setting aside the Greenbelt as a protected area, says environmental lawyer David Donnelly.

“Putting this development in the Greenbelt encourages other exceptions. And there should be no exceptions," he said.

King Township Mayor Margaret Black says the city is still trying to determine what legal options are open in opposing the generator being built on that site. But she’s at a loss, and doesn’t understand why the province didn’t do this months ago.

“This is about municipal planning," she said. “And I understand there may be some emergency decisions where they have to do something, but I haven’t seen that emergency has been established."

In the meantime, farmers from the Holland Marsh – the lush, closely guarded and heavily regulated agricultural area just 500 metres away from the proposed generator site – are worried about the implications it will have for their crops. More importantly, though, they’re worried this will open the door to similar developments in rural areas.

“This should scare the living Jesus out of everybody in the province," said Jamie Reaume, head of the Holland Marsh Growers Association. If the Greenbelt isn’t sacred, he argued, “this means this can be done anywhere, any time."

Nonsense, Mr. Duguid says: The province has no intention of putting blanket legislation in place like the Green Energy Act regulations exempting wind turbines from local planning qualms.

“I don’t think it’ll have any impact on the Greenbelt at all, except for ensuring that those who live and farm there have a stable source of power," he said.

But “it certainly sets a precedent," Mr. Donnelly said. “The government of Ontario is making good on its promise to accelerate its renewable energy plan. The regrettable part is that to use this instrument, to put this plant in this location, is a mistake."



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