Toronto Star

Vital hands on the power switch

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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.

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