With talk of a nuclear plant being built near Toronto, it''s time that the federal and Ontario governments streamline the approval process for the construction of such facilities in the future, says energy lawyer Mike Richmond.
"Right now, it takes six to 10 years to get through the process. That?s ridiculous and time-consuming, and I don?t see why you couldn?t do it in one to two years," says Richmond, a partner and co-chair of the energy law group at McMillan Binch Mendelsohn LLP in Toronto.
In February, The Globe and Mail reported that senior executives with Ontario Power Generation, which is owned by the provincial government, met with officials at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission last November to discuss "two potential sites that may be available for a new build," according to documents the newspaper received from Greenpeace.
One site would be at an
existing generating station at Darlington, Ont., about 70 km east of Toronto. The other would be at an OPG-owned site at Wesleyville, near Port Hope, Ont.
Should a nuclear power plant be built, it would be the first time such a facility has been constructed in Ontario since 1981, when the building of the Darlington generating station began.
But Richmond worries that with the current licensing and environmental processes in place, a new nuclear generating station would not begin operating until some time next decade ? and at a time when the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) has warned that demand for the province's electricity would exceed supply.
"Even lawyers who stand to benefit from this disarray recognize that this process is not sustainable ? that it's going to kill the economy of this province and that all of our clients are going to walk away and go build somewhere else," he says.
Richmond recalls how bureaucratic red tape quashed a proposed power deal between Ontario and Quebec five years ago.
The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) had approved Hydro One's application to construct two transmission lines in the Ottawa area that would connect with facilities being built by Hydro-Qu?bec and increase Ontario's interconnection capacity for electricity imports and exports by 1,250 megawatts.
However, as part of its approval, the OEB set a condition for Hydro One that it would use poles in its transmission, whereas in part of its assessment, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment asked that Hydro One use towers.
"The deal died because the two Ontario government agencies couldn't get their act together and decide whether to use towers or poles, and neither would back down," says Richmond, who at the time served as senior energy policy advisor to Ontario's then-energy minister Jim Wilson.
"After a year of watching this go back and forth, officials with the Quebec government threw their hands up and basically said, 'You guys are crazy, we're out of here.'"
But even when government agencies co-operate, the approval process is long and cumbersome, argues Richmond.
When he addressed the Association of Power Producers of Ontario conference last November, he illustrated the "panoply" of regulatory issues that face power projects in the province.
"In a sensible world, if you wanted to build a power plant in Ontario, you would go to the Ontario Ministry of Energy. And if ministry officials wanted you to build a plant and the government was going to be sole off-taker, you would think that they would make whatever arrangements were necessary within government to enable you to construct a power plant.
"You would, of course, be wrong."
As Richmond illustrated in a detailed slide presentation, the OPA, the OEB, Ontario Electricity Financial Corp., the province's Independent Electricity System Operator, Hydro One, distribution companies at the municipal level are all involved.
So too are the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for an assessment (and possibly one by Environment Canada), the National Energy Board (if gas is imported from another jurisdiction), a municipal committee of adjustment (for zoning issues), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the federal and Ontario departments of finance (for taxes and financial incentives), and so on.
"A nuclear project would, in fact, be worse than this," says Richmond, who explains that the handling of nuclear waste would also require the involvement of two federal agencies: the Canadian Nuclear Safety Com-mission and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
But Richmond doesn't understand why the federal and provincial governments can't establish one system of approval in which one jurisdiction would abide by any recommendations or findings the other would make.
"A project shouldn't have to go through the same process twice," he says.
"You could have legislation at the federal and provincial levels that would allow one jurisdiction to rely on the decision of the other.
"Trouble is, no level of government wants to give up an area of responsibility. But if the nuclear industry is going to succeed in this province, they're going to have to."
Richmond says that the Independent Electricity System Operator, the OEB, Hydro One, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are looking into the issue of streamlining the regulatory process.
He says federal, provincial, and municipal governments could also devise a common system whereby a developer could present a project to one panel composed of representatives from all three jurisdictions that reflect the various concerns of each.
Once a developer has gathered the scientific evidence to support the construction of a nuclear plant ? a process that could take one to two years to complete ? the time required for the environmental assessment and public consultations could be significantly reduced, Richmond insists.
"You could give one opportunity for critics to present their case, the developer to respond, and then proceed to a decision ? all within one to two years."
However, he adds that "foot dragging" on the part of governments is not the only obstacle facing any move to streamline the regulatory process.
There's also the issue of human resources.
"The Ontario environment ministry is understaffed and only has a handful of people responsible for hundreds of projects, so it takes months, if not years, to even get to a file."