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Canada: Waterpower Is Not Always Green

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I’ve supported renewable energy for more than 30 years, even before my years as legal counsel for the Ministry of Energy. And I’m a strong supporter of the Green Energy Act. But every type of energy generation has drawbacks, and none of them are suitable everywhere.

Most solar, wind and biomass renewable energy projects need renewable energy approvals under the Environmental Protection Act. But there is a different approval system for small hydro projects, focussed on a twin process of class environmental assessment which must be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment, and site release by the Ministry of Natural Resources. This process is proving very challenging, for proponents and opponents alike.

Xeneca, for example, is a waterpower developer funded by the Ontario Pension Trust, which was awarded 19 of the 47 Feed In Tariff contracts for potential waterpower sites across Ontario, more than any other developer. None of its sites, so far, have been approved, although senior Ministry of Natural Resources staff meet monthly with Xeneca to review its progress. In March, the Ministry of the Environment Approvals Branch firmly rejected Xeneca’s claims to have completed adequate environmental assessments of its first three projects:

  • Ivanhoe River: The Chute GS
  • Serpent River: Four Slide Falls GS, and
  • Frederick House River: Wanatango Falls GS

Other projects, such as Xeneca’s plan to dam Sturgeon Chutes, just above French River Provincial Park, are also encountering fierce opposition from local residents, businesses and First Nations. Local people and their experts have been explaining, for years, that the dam would cause significant damage to endangered species, including a sturgeon spawning area, to public safety, and to river water quality and quantity, among other problems. The Henvey Inlet First Nation has flatly refused to permit the project, which is close to at least one grave site and other areas of cultural significance. If Xeneca is listening, it’s hard to tell.

Such projects are not a good fit for the “green” promises of either Xeneca or OP Trust. Some places just should not be dammed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
Dr. Dianne Saxe
Dianne Saxe Professional Corporation, Saxe Law Office
248 Russell Hill Road
Toronto, Ontario  M4V 2T2  РCANADA
Fax: 416364 9880