FES Profile – Mark Winfield http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca Another York Blog Thu, 31 May 2018 20:22:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Ontario Election 2018: Positions on the environment, energy and climate change define divisions among Ontario’s political parties. http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2018/05/31/positions-on-the-environment-energy-and-climate-change-define-divisions-among-ontarios-political-parties/ Thu, 31 May 2018 12:25:02 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=764 With the Ontario election now a week away, all four major parties (the Progressive Conservatives belatedly) have now tabled their platforms. While the campaign has focused heavily on the personalities of the party leaders, a review of the platforms makes it clear that environmental, energy and climate change issues are central points of division among the parties.

Electricity issues have been at the core political discussions in Ontario for the past decade. Yet only the NDP and Greens seem prepared to raised fundamental questions about direction of the province’s electricity strategy, particularly the Liberal government’s proposed “life-extension,” of the end-of-life Pickering nuclear plant and the enormously expensive refurbishments Darlington and Bruce nuclear facilities. The  Greens have been alone in having the courage to question the viability and wisdom of the Liberal government’s “Fair Hydro Plan” rate cuts, which transfers major costs onto future ratepayers. The PCs appear to share the Liberal’s unflinching commitment to a high cost, high-risk path focused on rebuilding aging nuclear power plants.

The divisions are perhaps even deeper over the issue of climate change. Here the Liberals, NDP and Greens are in agreement around the need for carbon pricing and low-carbon transition strategies, with the Liberal and Green plans around the latter being the furthest developed. The Liberals are alone in addressing the need to adapt to an already changing climate as well. In stark contrast, the PCs promise not only to repeal the existing cap and trade carbon pricing system, but also to reduce the provincial gasoline tax by 10 cents/litre, and to mount a constitutional challenge to the federal government’s national carbon pricing plan for good measure.

Similar divisions emerge around land-use and transportation. The Greens, NDP, and Liberals all promise further protection of prime agricultural lands and drinking water sources. The Liberals and NDP also promise to halt the loss of provincial wetlands. PC leader Doug Ford, for his part, had to beat a hasty retreat early in the campaign on a reported willingness to open the GTA greenbelt to development. The PCs also propose to revive the recently abandoned proposal for a Brampton to Guelph GTA West highway through the Greenbelt. All of the parties make major commitments around transit, although the PCs are overwhelmingly focused on subway expansions in Toronto.

The NDP emerges well ahead of the other parties in its thinking around the development of a comprehensive provincial food strategy. The Greens introduce the idea of payments to farmers for providing ecological services like habitat protection and source water protection. The NDP and Liberals are strong on the protection of supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors and, along with the PCs, on addressing issues with the provincial farm risk management (i.e. insurance) program.

The NDP and Liberals continue to be enthusiastic supporters of the controversial “ring of fire” mining development in northeastern Ontario. Each commit to $1 billion in transportation infrastructure in support of the project. The NDP is alone in proposing a provincial forest strategy, while Greens propose to capturing a greater portion of mining and aggregate revenues for the public.

The NDP stands out again in proposing significant improvements to the province’s control of air and water pollution. The Liberals, for their part, make an innovative proposal for the labeling of presence of toxic substances in consumer products.

As is the case with climate change and land-use, the divide between the PCs and the other parties around economic strategy is stark. The Greens, Liberals, and NDP all present variations on the theme of strategies to address the economic transitions the province faces focused on specific sectors that are seen to be important to the Ontario’s future. Cleantech, manufacturing, information and communications technologies, and film, television, and digital media, all come up in these strategies. The PCs, on the other hand, present a simplistic strategy of corporate tax cuts and deregulation straight out of Mike Harris’ 1995 “Common Sense Revolution.”

The NDP, PCs, and Greens all emerge supporting resource revenue sharing with First Nations and northern communities, but only the Liberals and NDP present detailed strategies around reconciliation with Ontario’s indigenous communities.

In the final analysis the Liberals, NDP and Greens emerge sharing a substantial amount of ground on climate change, urban development, land use and infrastructure, and economic strategy. Their orientation towards a more active provincial government in these areas sets them far apart from Doug Ford's PCs. The PC's positions, in contrast, rest on a combination of short-term populist solutions and neo-conservative echoes of the "common sense revolution."

Where the NDP and Greens divide most strongly from the Liberals is around electricity.  The New Democrats and Greens have both indicated their willingness to engage in a fundamental review of the province's direction, particularly around nuclear "life-extensions" and refurbishments, while the Liberals are steadfast in their adherence to those directions. The Greens part from the NDP in their clearer long-term commitment to a 100 per cent renewable energy system, and in their doubts about the viability of easy means of reducing electricity costs in the short term.

The debates around the province’s direction on environmental, energy and climate change issues are now profoundly connected to the parties’ overall strategies around the role of the provincial government itself and the long-term direction of the Ontario’s economy and society. Ontario voters will need to look beyond the personalities of the party leaders and consider the choices that they will be making on June 7th in these more substantive terms.

Ontario Election 2018: The Liberals have made a mess of the electricity file, but Doug Ford would double down on their mistakes http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2018/05/02/the-liberals-have-made-a-mess-of-the-electricity-file-but-doug-ford-would-double-down-on-their-mistakes/ Wed, 02 May 2018 20:28:40 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=756 May 2018

Mark Winfield, York University

With last week’s announcement by Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford of his plan to reduce hydro rates, electricity costs have emerged as a central question in the upcoming Ontario election. However, Mr.Ford’s less than one-page solution has the potential to make the situation worse than ever. An effective long-term strategy for reducing electricity costs requires some deeper reflection, including the recognition of some unwelcome truths.

The first of these truths is that substantial increases in electricity costs, relative to where they stood a decade ago, were inevitable. Ontario’s electricity system went through a long period of minimal capital investments, even on basic maintenance, under a succession of Progressive Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments. The approach kept rates low in the short term, but at the cost of a growing backlog of needed repairs. When Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals came to power in 2003, they were confronted with the news that 80 percent of the system needed to be reconstructed or replaced.

Since then, while rates have risen, the reliability of the system has been dramatically improved, coal-fired electricity, which once provided twenty-five percent of the province’s power, has been phased out, with major public health and environmental benefits, and substantial investments have been made in renewable energy and energy conservation.

That said there is no doubt that better decisions could have been made over the past 15 years. Did we pay too much for renewable energy development?  Probably yes – but the role renewables in the overall increases in electricity costs has been grossly overstated.

Moreover, the focus on the costs of renewables has obscured discussion of other major drivers of cost increases, particularly first round of nuclear refurbishments, which ran billions over budget and years behind schedule.

Key decisions about long-term investments were made an atmosphere of near panic in aftermath of 2003 blackout and the collapse of Mike Harris-era market experiment. A meaningful long-term planning and public review process was never established.

Instead, the province has defaulted into making-decisions around questions with enormous long-term economic and environmental consequences, on the basis of short-term political considerations. Examples from the past seven years abound. The gas plant cancellations before the 2011 election, the Hydro One sale, whose primary rationale seems to be to keep the financing of capital investments off the province’s books, the financially calamitous Fair Hydro Plan designed to provide short-term rate reductions at the cost of tens of billions to future consumers, and the Bruce and Darlington nuclear plant refurbishments. Those multi-billion-dollar projects have been subject to far less external scrutiny than even the financially disastrous BC Site C and Newfoundland Muskrat Falls projects.

The government’s performance on file, even allowing for the depth of the challenges it inherited in 2003, does not inspire confidence, and it offers little in terms of a more rational approach in the longer term.

The problem for Ontarians is that thus far, the major opposition parties are offering little better. PC leader Doug Ford proposes to retain the fiscally disastrous Fair Electricity Plan. Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats essentially commits to the same path. Ford would to use the dividends from Hydro One to further reduce bills, while the NDP wants to use the revenues to buy Hydro One back. Neither mentions what services and investments that are currently being paid for with the dividends will be cut instead.

Energy conservation is widely accepted as by far the least costly means of meeting consumers’ energy needs.  It also delivers range of other benefits, from improved housing quality and comfort to increasing the energy efficiency and therefore competitiveness of Ontario industry. Yet Mr. Ford proposes to remove conservation from the electricity rate base. That leaves only three options: terminate conservation programs altogether; increase taxes to cover the costs of conservation programs; or cut spending somewhere else to provide the required funding. Mr. Ford hasn’t indicated which option he has in mind.

Mr. Ford’s third proposal is to impose a moratorium on new electricity supply contracts and to re-open existing ones. A pause on new, non-conservation contracts is not necessarily a bad idea, as long as it applies across the board to all technologies, including the massively expensive and risky refurbishments of the Darlington and Bruce nuclear power plants.

There are a number of steps Ontario’s political leaders could take from there if they are serious about controlling hydro costs in the future.  Regulatory oversight of the semi-privatized Hydro One should be tightened to make sure the utility is not leveraging its Ontario rate base revenues to finance out of province ventures. A strengthened focus on conservation, with an emphasis on the needs of low-income consumers, offers the best option for keeping costs down in the long-term.

Finally, the province needs to engage in a meaningful, independent, public review of the province’s long-term electricity needs and options in terms of cost-effectiveness, resilience, and sustainability. All options: nuclear refurbishments; hydro imports from Québec; additional renewables and conservation; and distributed generation and storage; need to be on the table. Such a review offers the only option for building some sort of lasting consensus around the system’s future direction and putting an end to the practice of managing the system around short-term political goals.

Mark Winfield is a Professor of Environmental Studies at York University. He has written extensively on electricity issues in Ontario over the past decade.


The Kinder-Morgan Pipeline “crisis:” Not panicking would be a good place to start http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2018/04/12/kinder-morgan-not-panicking-would-be-a-good-place-to-start/ Thu, 12 Apr 2018 21:22:04 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=747 April 2018

Over the past few days, the concerns over the fate of the pipeline in the face of the BC government’s objections have been elevated to the level of a constitutional and political crisis, driven by an artificial deadline set by the pipeline’s Houston-based owner. The hyperbole about how the fate of this single project will somehow damage Canada’s reputation for political stability and as a safe location for investment is becoming potentially more damaging to Canada’s good standing than the fate of the pipeline itself.  The situation raises questions about how much the crisis is real, and how much the country is being drawn into an elaborate exercise in political theatre in the run-up to the 2019 Alberta election.

If Alberta and the federal government really want to moderate the BC government’s opposition to the pipeline, their current strategy of attempting to bludgeon BC’s government into a humiliating and politically suicidal retreat constitutes the worst possible approach imaginable. The louder Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney, and federal Natural Resource and Finance Ministers Jim Carr and Bill Morneau whinge on about the injustices of BC’s position, the harder it becomes for BC Premier Horgan to entertain any form of compromise.

BC’s position is far from one without justification. The pipeline was approved on the basis of a process established by Stephen Harper's Conservative government, a process that the federal Liberals’ 2015 platform described as deeply lacking in credibility and public trust. The Liberals’ 2015 electoral gains in BC, particularly in the lower mainland, rested in no small part on commitments to reform the process. Those commitments remain far from fulfilled.

Legitimate questions continue to exist around the risks and impacts of bitumen spills, the consent of affected indigenous communities, and the effects of pipeline expansions and the growth in oil sands production they are likely to induce on Canada’s ability to meet its GHG emission reduction commitments under the 2015 Paris Accord.  The pipeline offers nothing to BC in terms of energy security, and little in economic development beyond temporary construction jobs. The appearance of a steady stream of public and indigenous protesters is no surprise in this context.  Their presence is likely to grow as pressures on the BC government increase.

It is also important not to forget that while the Northern Gateway pipeline was rejected by the federal government, and the Energy East pipeline project (sensibly) abandoned by its proponent, Alberta has seen several major pipeline victories in the past few years: the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 to carry bitumen through Ontario and Quebec; the Enbridge Line 3 expansion through Manitoba to the US; and President Trump’s reversal of President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast of the United States. In the context of these changed circumstances, there are serious questions about whether the Kinder-Morgan expansion is needed at all.

The situation presents the Trudeau government with some profound legal and political challenges. The legal and constitutional situation around the project may be far more complex than some observers have suggested. As Jason MacLean of the University of Saskatchewan has emphasized, recent jurisprudence on the scope of federal and provincial authority around environmental matters has stressed the sharing of jurisdiction and the importance of federal-provincial cooperation.

At the end of the day, the federal government does have the formal, legal constitutional authority to override provincial objections to any undertaking, specifically through the declaratory power provided by s.92(10)(c) of the Constitution Act. However, that power has not been exercised in relation to a new matter in more than half a century. The political consequences of such a direct assertion of federal authority in relation to a project that is not vital to national security, and to which a provincial government has expressed its direct opposition, would be profound, not only in BC, but across the country.

As Chantal Hebert and others have pointed out, such a brutal expression of federal power would be an enormous gift to the flailing sovereigntist movement in Quebec. In BC itself, it could dim the electoral prospects of the federal Liberal Party for decades.

Nor would even an exercise of the federal declaratory power override the constitutional rights of the affected indigenous people and communities to meaningful and substantive consultation, and accommodation of their interests.

There are no easy ways out of the current situation in the short term. Not panicking over Kinder-Morgan’s May 31st deadline would be a good place to start. If investors believe the pipeline will be profitable, they are likely to be there if and when it proceeds.

In the meantime, the federal Liberals need to admit, as their 2015 election platform already did, that the approval process around the project was deeply flawed and needs to be revised to address the issues being raised by BC, and the affected communities and First Nations. The federal government also must address the fundamental contradictions between approving infrastructure that facilitates the expansion of oil sands production - by far the most significant source of growth in industrial GHG emissions in Canada - and its international commitments to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions.

Alberta, for its part, has to face the emerging reality that the expansion of exports of raw bitumen is a losing and increasingly non-viable proposition. Rather it needs to focus on upgrading its output to higher value and lower risk products. Finally, BC must deal with its own contradictions around the province’s climate change strategy and its pursuit of GHG emission intense liquid natural gas exports.

None of the parties to the Kinder-Morgan dispute comes to the conversation with clean hands, but the current hysteria over the project has the potential to do more damage to Canada’s economic and environmental interests than the actual fate of the pipeline itself. A calmer and more mature debate is needed from all sides.

Which way forward on Carbon Pricing in Ontario? http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/12/16/which-way-forward-on-carbon-pricing-in-ontario/ Sat, 16 Dec 2017 22:55:33 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=735 Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown’s proposal to replace the Kathleen Wynne’s cap and trade system for reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions with a carbon tax has set off a series of debates about the merits of these different approaches to address the challenge of climate change. Almost lost in this debate has been one of the most remarkable aspects of Mr.Brown's proposed policy - the implicit political acceptance of some form of substantial carbon pricing across the political spectrum in Ontario. The change in the Progressive Conservative party’s position on the issue represents is a major shift in the climate change conversation, relative to where it was not more than a year ago.

In terms of the specific options being offered by Ms. Wynne’s government and Mr. Brown, it is important to recognized that a central, but unspoken, feature of the government's approach is that it doesn't really rely on the carbon price generated through its cap and trade system for emissions per se as its primary mechanism for reducing GHG emissions. The carbon price being generated through the system (~$18/tonne) is far too low to have any meaningful impact on individual or corporate behaviour.

Rather the purpose of the cap and trade system, at this point, is to generate revenues, which then can be invested in low-carbon transition strategies like expanding public transit services. The granting of free emission allowances to industrial emitters, at least for the initial phases of the program, reinforces that view.

In some ways, the strategy makes sense, as Ontario’s industrial emissions of GHGs have fallen dramatically since the signing of the original United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The shift has largely been a result of economic restructuring, rather than any climate change strategy. In the meantime, transportation has emerged as the key area of growth in emissions in the province.

Transportation-related emissions, particularly for passenger transportation, are very hard to address through pricing mechanisms alone. Transportation patterns are driven by embedded long-term factors like existing infrastructure (e.g. roads), urban forms that separate housing from work and other activities, and the lack of viable alternatives to automobiles, like good and reliable transit services. In that context, major investments in transit services may make good sense in Ontario as a GHG emission reduction strategy.

A key weakness in the province’s current strategy is that it hasn't provided a real mechanism to ensure that the revenues generated through the cap and trade system are invested projects that give a good return on investment in terms of GHG reductions. There is a real risk of the revenues being used on high-profile projects that are relatively ineffective in either reducing emissions or adapting to a changing climate. Linking Ontario’s system to California also runs the risk that Ontario emitters will buy emission permits from that state rather than reducing their own emissions, particularly if the California legislature approves more permits than are really needed there.

Mr. Brown proposed that we move from a cap and trade system to a carbon tax. At this point, such a shift could still be feasible given that what we have now, with the granting of free allowances to the large industrial emitters, is a de facto carbon tax on heating and transportation fuels. The distributors of those fuels are the only people actually paying for allowances under Ontario’s system. A shift in approach will get harder if industrial emitters start actually having to buy and trade credits.

A major weakness in Patrick Brown's approach is that the carbon price he proposes ($50/tonne by 2022) is still far too low to affect behaviour enough to get us anywhere near the Paris targets. Additional measures will be needed. In Ontario's case, the specific areas of focus will need to be transportation and buildings. Buildings can be partially addressed through regulatory measures like the building code and efficiency standards for heating and cooling systems, but financial incentives to help build capacity and support new technologies and practices will be needed too. Transportation, for the reasons outlined above, will require substantial investments in new infrastructure and services. Rather than doing that, Mr. Brown proposes to give away the revenues in the form of tax cuts.

As for the province’s other parties, Mike Schreiner’s Greens propose to retain the Liberals’ cap and trade system, but eliminate the free allowances for large industrial polluters. Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats also propose to keep the cap and trade system, with greater transparency, and to dedicate twenty-five percent of the revenues to communities likely to suffer disproportionate economic impacts of carbon pricing. The bottom line at this stage is that none of the province’s major parties proposed a comprehensive strategy for meeting the province's (or Ottawa's) GHG emission targets.

Site C, Muskrat Falls and the pitfalls of short-circuited project reviews. http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/11/27/site-c-muskrat-falls-and-the-pitfalls-of-short-circuited-project-reviews/ Mon, 27 Nov 2017 14:06:23 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=732 Mark Winfield

York University

November 2017


The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has just announced a public inquiry into how the economically disastrous Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project was approved. In reality there is little mystery. The project was strongly supported by governments of former Premiers Danny Williams and Kathy Dunderdale, A very limited economic review was permitted by province’s Public Utilities Board. and the federal-provincial environmental review panel established in relation to the project was barred from examining the its economic viability. Both the board and panel, to their credit, questioned the need for the project, but their advice was ignored.

A similar story is unfolding on Canada’s west coast. The new British Columbia government of Premier John Horgan finds itself faced with the question of whether to continue the construction of the controversial Site C hydro dam project. The story behind Site C is very similar to that around Muskrat Falls. The project was strongly supported by the government of former premier Christy Clark, and the normal economic review process before the BC Utilities Commission by-passed. The joint federal-provincial environmental assessment process that did occur was deeply constrained, and remains the subject of long-standing criticism from the affected First Nations and communities.

The stories of these projects in BC and Newfoundland and Labrador stand in contrast to the story that unfolded in Manitoba over the same time period. That province had proposed a massive hydro project of its own– the 1,485MW Conawapa Dam. However, Manitoba’s approach was fundamentally different from that taken in BC and Newfoundland. Rather than short-circuiting the normal assessment and approvals processes for these types of projects, the Government of Manitoba undertook a substantial public review of the economic rationale and environmental and social impacts of the project. This included consideration of the need for the project, and the availability of alternative ways of meeting the province’s electricity needs.

Given the opportunity for a proper review, the Manitoba Public Utilities Board determined that there was no economic justification for the project. Although several smaller related projects did still proceed, the result saved Manitoba residents from kinds of catastrophic costs now faced by BC and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The story however, does not stop there. In central Canada, the Government of Ontario has embarked on an energy megaproject of its own – the reconstruction of ten nuclear reactors at the Bruce and Darlington nuclear power plants. If everything goes according to plan, the projects are estimated to cost in the range of $26 billion. Many critics suspect, based on the outcomes of the province’s previous nuclear refurbishment projects, that things will not go according to plan. The costs could be tens of billions of dollars more than the province’s estimates.

Surprisingly, particularly in a province where rising hydro rates are the number one political issue, Ontario’s nuclear reconstruction projects have been subject to even less meaningful public review than either the Site C or Muskrat Falls projects. There have been no public hearings at all before the province’s energy regulator on the need for these projects, their likely costs, or the availability of alternatives to them. It has been reported, for example, that Québec-Hydro has offered Ontario firm long-term electricity exports at a fraction of the best-case estimates of the costs of the nuclear refurbishments. There has been no formal public examination of this option, or of the need for the refurbishments in the context of the province’s current electricity surplus.

The lessons that flow from the experiences of these four provinces seem clear. Had BC and Newfoundland and Labrador followed by type of comprehensive public review undertaken by Manitoba for its hydro megaproject, they might well have avoided the disastrous situations they now find themselves in regarding Site C and Muskrat Falls. There is even less excuse for the behaviour of the Government of Ontario, which seems poised to condemn its residents to decades of massive electricity debt as well.

The federal government is not without blame in these stories. All these projects were subject to some form of federal approval and environmental assessment. In each case, the federal government deferred to the wishes of the projects’ provincial sponsors, limiting the scope of federal reviews, and avoiding unwelcome questions about need, alternatives, and economic viability.

Mr.Trudeau’s government was elected two years ago in part on promises to reform the federal environmental assessment and regulatory review processes which apply to these types of projects. So far, the Trudeau government has produced a discussion paper, which in large part proposes to leave the existing processes, established in their current form through former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2012 “responsible resource development” initiative, in place.

The situations that are now emerging in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador make it clear that those approaches are not good enough. Federal and provincial assessment and review processes need to ensure that there are meaningful, public evaluations of the economic rationality, and social and environmental impacts of energy and resource projects before they proceed. It remains to be seen whether Canadian governments will draw the same conclusion. Canada’s taxpayers and energy ratepayers should hope that they do.

Mark Winfield is a Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, and Co-Chair of the University’s Sustainable Energy Initiative. The author thanks Master of Environmental Studies students Amanda Gelfant and Susan Morrissey Wise for their assistance with this article.  

Energy East Pipeline Cancellation http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/10/27/energy-east-pipeline-cancellation/ Fri, 27 Oct 2017 17:11:29 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=729 Published in the Globe and Mail October 10, 2017

There were serious questions about the wisdom and economic and political viability of the Energy East project from the outset.

It faced profound opposition in Quebec; Ontario's energy board had concluded the project wasn't in the province's environmental or energy security interests.

TransCanada's decision to terminate the project in the face of requirements to consider the upstream greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion of oil sands production that its construction would induce confirmed what many of the project's critics had suspected all along: There was no way Energy East could be reconciled with Canada's international commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The revision of the National Energy Board's review process to consider the upstream and downstream emission impacts of energy infrastructure projects is an important first step in the reform of the federal government's environmental and regulatory review processes. Much more remains to be done to ensure future decisions consider the effects of projects on Canada's international environmental commitments, their impacts on Indigenous peoples, and their overall contributions to sustainability.

Mark S. Winfield, co-chair, Sustainable Energy Initiative, Environmental Studies, York University

Is Ontario poised to repeat Walkerton-style mistakes http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/10/27/is-ontario-poised-to-repeat-walkerton-style-mistakes/ Fri, 27 Oct 2017 16:52:05 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=727 Published in the Hamilton Spectator October 23, 2017

Canadians, watching U.S. President Donald Trump's attacks on air and water pollution rules in the United States have taken some comfort in the notion that it couldn't happen here. Sadly, the reality is that the same processes have been unfolding, in slower and more subtle ways, in Canada as well.

An example of these processes in Canada is buried deep within a 144-page omnibus bill, mostly of administrative details and amendments, currently being considered by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Bill 154, the Cutting Unnecessary Red Tape Reduction Act incorporates a small section entitled the Reducing Regulatory Costs of Business Act. This section could be one of the most significant pieces of legislation affecting the health, safety, and environment of Ontario residents, proposed in many years

The section would introduce a "one for one" rule with respect to new regulatory measures. Specifically, it would require that the "administrative burden" to businesses associated with any new regulatory measures would have to be offset but a comparable reduction in the "administrative burden" associated with existing regulatory measures.

These types of rules effectively require than an existing regulatory requirement be removed or weakened before new requirements can be established. The implication is that new problems cannot be addressed unless a rule related to an established threat is removed. Stronger rules for air pollution, cannot be adopted, for example, unless the rules around some other threat to human health or the environment, such as the management of hazardous wastes, are somehow weakened. More insidiously, the analytical burden imposed on regulators by this requirement, means that new rules will not be proposed, even when officials are aware of the need to address emerging threats to human health and safety and the environment.

As such the provisions of Schedule 4 of Bill 154 present a serious threat to the ability of the government of Ontario to protect the health, safety, and environment of Ontario residents. In his report on the May 2000 Walkerton Water Disaster Justice Dennis O'Connor highlighted the role of similar "red tape reduction" rules in contributing to the disaster and its severity. Section 8 of Schedule 4 of the bill provides immunity to the Crown against any proceeding arising from action taken or omitted to be taken as a result of the bill. The provision is a de facto acknowledgement by the government of the risks to the public posed by the bill.

The existence of a "one in, two out" rule, similar to that proposed in Bill 154, in the United Kingdom has been strongly implicated in the failure of UK authorities to revise fire safety codes to address the threats posed by the types of building cladding used on the Grenfell tower in London. The fire at the tower this past June resulted in the deaths of at least 80 people. In the United States, a similar rule was adopted by the Trump Administration in January of this year. The measure, which is the subject of multiple constitutional and legal challenges, has been widely criticized as a threat to public health and safety and the environment.

Given the serious implications of the "one for one" rule, the provisions of bill 154 implementing the measure should be removed from the bill, and reviewed as separate legislation. Alternatively, Bill 154 should be amended to provide an exemption from the "one for one" rule for any regulation or instrument necessary for the protection of the health, safety and environment of Ontario residents.

Ontario has suffered through the consequences of compromising the provincial government's ability to adopt new rules to protect Ontarians from new and emerging threats to their health and environment more than once already. Bill 154 would set the stage for the new tragedies. The province should withdraw the bill's proposed "one-for-one" rule before it is too late.

Mark Winfield is a professor of environmental studies at York University. His research includes a focus on the design and management regulatory systems.

The Political Consequences of Interim Measures: The BC Election, Kinder-Morgan Pipeline and Federal Environmental Assessment Reform. http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/05/31/the-political-consequences-of-interim-measures-the-bc-election-kinder-morgan-pipeline-and-federal-environmental-assessment-reform/ Wed, 31 May 2017 19:50:05 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=716 June 1st 2017

One of the defining features of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approach to environmental matters was the dramatic streamlining of the federal environmental review and approval processes for energy and other resource projects through his 2012 budget implementation legislation, Bill C-38.
The rewriting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the other changes contained in Bill C-38 were principally intended to accelerate the approval and construction of new or expanded pipelines to Canada’s east and west coasts, to export oil sands bitumen from Alberta.

In practice, it quickly became apparent that the Bill C-38 reforms had stripped the federal environmental review process of any legitimacy. The result was an intensification, rather than resolution, of the political, economic, social and environmental conflicts around projects like the Northern Gateway, Energy East and Kinder-Morgan pipelines.

A central feature of Justin Trudeau’s platform in the 2015 federal election campaign was an acknowledgement of the consequences of the Harper government’s efforts at streamlining the federal environmental review processes. The platform contained a commitment to an immediate review of Canada’s environmental assessment processes and the introduction of “new, fair processes.” That commitment likely contributed to the significant gains made by the federal Liberals in British Columbia in the 2015 election.

Unfortunately, the Liberal government’s commitment to reform has yet to be delivered. The government announced a “interim measures” for the review process in January 2016. These added some additional public consultations and consideration of climate change impacts to the process, but left the C-38 legislative framework intact. The government then proceeded, last November, to approve the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline expansion, essentially relying on that framework.

Six months later, the political consequences of the failure to take the time to undo the damage done by Mr.Harper, and establish a “new” and “fair” federal environmental review process before making decisions on projects like the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, are coming home to roost with a vengeance.
After two weeks of uncertainty the outcome of the British Columbia election now seems clear. The agreement between BC NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver means that it is almost certain that BC Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals, who now hold one fewer seat than the combined NDP and Green total, will be defeated in the BC Legislature following the delivery of a Speech from the Throne. BC Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon is then likely to ask Mr.Horgan to form a government with the support of Mr. Weaver’s Greens.

One of the core elements of the NDP-Green accord is a commitment to “immediately employ every tool available” to halt the expansion of the Alberta to BC Kinder Morgan Pipeline. The stage is now set for a major political and legal confrontation between the governments of BC, Alberta, and Canada, as well as the BC first nations and municipalities who strongly oppose the project. The political consequences for Mr. Trudeau could be dire.

Some have suggested that the government of Canada use the federal declaratory power to overrule provincial objections in BC. The declaratory power hasn’t been used in such a way in more than half a century, and any move along those lines would probably terminate the federal Liberal party’s electoral prospects in the province for the next half century at least. That is to say nothing of the constitutional alarm bells such an action would set off in Quebec over the equally controversial Energy East pipeline project. As it is, the federal government’s continued defense of its approval of the pipeline is placing the seats of many of its recently elected members in BC at risk.

All of this could have been avoided had Mr. Trudeau’s government taken the time to carry through on its platform and Throne Speech commitments to reform the federal environmental review process properly before making decisions on projects like the Kinder-Morgan pipeline.

The original architects of environmental review processes in Canada, who included Mr. Trudeau’s father, recognized the political risks associated with having no structure within which social and political conflicts over the risks, cost and benefits of major projects could be discussed and resolved in a way that earned public trust and legitimacy.

Credible proposals for the meaningful reform of the federal environmental review process, including how to address questions of how the expansion of fossil-fuel export infrastructure can be reconciled with Canada’s international climate change commitments, were presented at the end of March by an expert review panel. There is no easy way out of the political box Mr.Trudeau’s government has constructed for itself around the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline, but the Prime Minister would be well advised to give the review panel’s recommendations serious consideration.

Aggregating Distributed Energy Resources – The Key to a Sustainable Energy Revolution? http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/04/13/aggregating-distributed-energy-resources-the-key-to-a-sustainable-energy-revolution/ Thu, 13 Apr 2017 13:11:11 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=713 By Mark Winfield

The large-scale electrification of transportation and other energy-based services are widely seen as an important element of efforts to reduce significantly greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. Major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be essential to meeting the requirements of the Paris Climate Change Agreements and preventing what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has termed “dangerous” climate change.

The focus on electrification has emerged at a time of three major technological revolutions in the electricity industry. Over the past decade we have witnessed dramatic declines in costs renewable energy technologies, particularly wind, and solar photovoltaic (PV) and thermal technologies, while the performance of these technologies has been improving. Similar developments have been occurring around energy storage technologies. Batteries, mechanical systems like compressed air and flywheels, as well thermal and gas-based technologies, have been seeing significant breakthroughs in cost and technological performance.  Finally, the emergence of “smart” electricity grids, through the digitization of communications and control systems, has the potential to lead to more adaptive and resilient electricity systems. Such systems will be better able to coordinate and integrate smaller scale and geographically distributed energy generation and storage technologies into reliable grid scale resources.

These three developments have the potential to make energy systems more environmentally and economically sustainable than is currently the case. They will be  able to make better use of renewable low-carbon energy sources, be more reliable and resilient through the greater us of distributed and technologically diverse energy sources, have greater ability to adapt to changing circumstances and needs, and have the potential to offer greater control to consumers.

The technological elements needed to realize this potential are coming together rapidly. The required policy and institutional arrangements are evolving much more slowly. The full attainment of the sustainable energy potential of low-impact renewable energy technologies, new energy storage systems and smart grids will require new business models for utilities, and the recognition of new types of actors and service providers in energy markets and systems.

A key focus of discussions in the United States and Europe around these developments has been the issue of aggregation services - the coordination and integration of distributed energy production and storage resources, such as rooftop solar PV systems, household or commercial building scale energy storage systems, like Tesla Powerwalls, and electric vehicles with substantial battery storage capacity, into useful resources at the local, regional and national levels.

The issue has a number of dimensions.  Information and communications technologies are needed to monitor, control and coordinate distributed resources. Technological developments in this area are moving rapidly. The questions of who will provide these integration and coordination services for distributed generation and storage systems, and how they will be paid to provide them are emerging as significant challenges. Except for limited purposes like peak demand shaving, distributed resource aggregation functions fall outside of the current rules for electricity systems in North America and Europe.

There are generally no structures for the offering of bundles of services as energy suppliers, managing and coordinating cumulative output of distributed generation and storage when more electricity is needed, conservation and demand management resources, reducing grid demand by relying on distributed generating and storage capacity, and ancillary services like grid frequency and voltage regulation. Nor is it clear how someone would be paid for providing these sorts of coordination and integration services.

The issue of the role of aggregation services is now moving to the forefront of the future design of electricity markets and systems.  A paper issued by US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) just before the arrival of the Trump Administration proposed that aggregators of distributed generation and storage resources be treated as a new form of actor in electricity markets, with appropriate mechanisms to pay for their services. Similar proposals are being discussed in Germany as part of its Energiewende or energy transition.

Here in Canada, Ontario's local hydro companies (a.k.a. local distribution companies or LDCs), have proposed that they be permitted to function as "fully integrated network orchestrators (FINOs)" in relation to these kinds of activities, something which the current electricity market rules in Ontario do not fully enable them to do. Some of Ontario’s LDCs have been in the forefront of efforts to integrate and coordinate household level renewable energy generation and energy storage technologies.

A technological revolution in energy systems is now underway. How governments respond to these developments will have a major impact on the shape of future energy systems, and their role enabling us to meet the goals of the Paris Agreements.

Mark S. Winfield is a Professor of Environmental Studies at York University. Research for this article was conducted as part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) funded Network on Storage Technology (NEST) project.


Expert Panel Outlines Future Direction of Federal Environmental Reviews, but Significant Gaps Remain http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2017/04/07/expert-panel-outlines-future-direction-of-federal-environmental-reviews-but-significant-gaps-remain/ Fri, 07 Apr 2017 14:48:35 +0000 http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/?p=702 Earlier this week (April 5, 2017) the federal government’s Expert Panel on the Review of the Federal Environmental Assessment Process tabled its final report. The panel was set up as one of four elements of the Federal Environmental and Regulatory Review process announced in June 2016. The review process was intended to fulfil the Liberal government’s campaign promises to review Harper government’s Bill C-38 changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), National Energy Board (NEB) Act, Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act. A second review panel is expected to report on the review of the NEB in May, and parliamentary committees have delivered reports on the future of the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act, which replaced the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

In its report, the expert panel highlights the failure of Harper government’s attempts to streamline the federal environmental approvals processes for energy infrastructure, particularly pipelines to carry Alberta oil sands bitumen to tidewater. In the view of many of the witnesses head by the panel, the Bill C-38 changes intensified, rather than resolved, the social, environmental, political and legal conflicts around these projects.

In response, the panel proposes major reforms to the federal environmental assessment process. The panel emphasizes the goal of advancing sustainability, as opposed to merely mitigating the negative effects of projects, as the primary purpose of the assessment process.  There is an emphatic rejection of Harper government’s attempts to limit public participation in decision-making processes. Rather the panel stresses the importance of inclusion, and especially engagement with indigenous people, in a manner consistent with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Under the panel’s proposals decision-making authority be vested in a new environmental assessment authority rather than cabinet, as under the C-38 amendments to CEAA and the NEB Act. The authority’s decisions would, however, be subject to a cabinet appeal process. Importantly, responsibility for the conduct of energy related assessments would be transferred from the NEB and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to the new agency. This recommendation reflects the very strong and consistent comments received from the public and indigenous representatives that the NEB and CNSC were seen to be “captured” by the industries they were to regulate.

The panel recommends introducing a planning phase into the assessment process for large projects, with the intention of improving the overall efficiency of reviews. There are also extensive recommendations the conduct and structure of regional level and strategic (policy, program, and plan-level) assessments, and around the incorporation of climate change considerations into assessments. A strong emphasis is placed on the upwards harmonization of requirements were federal and provincial assessment processes apply to the same project.

The panel’s report is generally very comprehensive in outlining a renewed federal approach to environmental assessment. However, the panel’s recommendations are very much formulated around the assessment of major resource and infrastructure projects, like the Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan/Transmountain pipelines. Although somewhat ambiguous, the report seems to retain Harper-era approach to the designation of projects for assessments via a designated projects list, rather than the triggers-based approach that was the foundation of the pre-Bill C-38 CEAA. Under the pre-C-38 model, federal assessments were required as a result of the need to obtain specific federal approvals, such as permits to “harmfully alter or destroy fish habitat” under s.35 of the Fisheries Act, or where projects were on federal lands, involved federal funds, or where a federal agency was the proponent.

The panel’s approach potentially leaves some very significant gaps in the federal assessment process. In particular, smaller projects that were subject to at least screening level assessments as a result of requiring approvals under federal legislation like the Fisheries Act and the former Navigable Waters Protection Act, will no longer be subject to any review at all. Although individually of limited significance, the cumulative effects of these types of undertakings on important environmental features, like shorelines, can be very important.

The report also seems to limit project assessments on federal lands or where federal agencies, like Parks Canada, or the Departments of National Defense or Agriculture and Agri-Food are proponents, to the kinds of large projects that appear on the designated project list. The panel's approach would again leave a major gap, as the screening level assessments for smaller projects on federal lands, or with federal proponents, that occurred under the pre-Bill C-38 version of CEAA, limited as they were, were typically the only form of environmental review for such undertakings that occurred at all.

Federal Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna has indicated her intention, following public consultations on the panel’s report, to introduce revisions to CEAA in 2018. The NEB review report is due in May, and there are indications that the CNSC and NEB are lobbying internally already against stripping them of responsibility for the environmental review of energy projects.

The outcome of the review process remains very much in doubt as a result. Having approved a series of carbon-export infrastructure projects, including the Kinder-Morgan and Line 3 pipelines and the Pacific Northwest Liquid Natural Gas Project, the pressure is now very much on the Trudeau government to deliver on its promises to deliver a “new, fair and robust” federal environmental assessment process.

Mark Winfield is a Professor of Environmental Studies at York University. He was author of the Metcalf Foundation’s May 2016 Green Prosperity Challenge Paper A New Era in Environmental Governance in Canada: Making Better Decisions About Infrastructure and Resource Development Projects