Vital hands on the power switch
Electricity, the lifeblood of the Ontario economy, suffered chronic anemia during the years of Conservative rule from 1995 to 2003. So when the Liberals took over at Queen’s Park in 2003, Premier Dalton McGuinty called in a new set of doctors in the form of the Ontario Power Authority to heal the patient. Although there are clear signs that the patient is improving under the power authority’s treatment, a related concern arose that with five provincial agencies now involved in the care of Ontario’s power sector, there was a risk that so many electricity doctors would start tripping over themselves. In addition to the Ministry of Energy and the power authority, the care of Ontario’s electricity sector is provided by the Ontario Energy Board, the Independent Electricity System Operator, and the two crown agencies that resulted from the breakup of Ontario Hydro, namely Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One. To explore this concern, the provincial government last year called in yet another group of specialists in the form of a four-member Agency Review Panel headed by former Molson Inc. boss James Arnett. Reporting just as the province was entering the holiday season, the panel’s recommendations were unfortunately lost in the festivities and celebrations that come with the end of the year. As expected, the panel found a significant degree of overlap and duplication of functions, mainly among the Ontario Power Authority, the ministry and the Independent Electricity System Operator. Accordingly, it recommended that in due course the work of the power authority could be split between the other two. However, recognizing the importance of “organizational stability” at atime when the “electricity sector and the agencies within it appear to be functioning reasonably well,” the panel wisely recommended that no shakeup in responsibilities be considered at the present time. While there is plenty of time to contemplate alternative arrangements in the future, the last thing the government would want to consider now is a reorganization that could interrupt the demonstrable gains the Ontario Power Authority has already made in ensuring the province has sufficient power to meet its needs. Among the panel’s other recommendations, there is one that has a direct and immediate bearing on the top priority of guaranteeing Ontarians the power they need. Too many projects are now subject to costly and unnecessary delays because of the many layers of approval needed, such as environmental, municipal, Ontario Municipal Board as well as the power authority. The panel argues persuasively that this impediment could be reduced by moving to a single, integrated approval process with one set of public hearings and a clear timeline, which it said “would facilitate an efficient consideration of all public interest matters without impairing the rigour of the assessments.” Queen’s Park should heed the panel’s advice and move to establish a single, integrated approval process to avoid unnecessary delays in getting new electricity generation and transmission off the ground.