The P.E.I. government has made regulatory changes under the Renewable Energy Act to give itself "clear authority" to issue permits for solar and wind farms, including within municipal boundaries — a move that will allow projects to go ahead even if the local council is opposed.
The rule change comes with the province still smarting over a four-year battle to expand its wind generation capacity in the Rural Municipality of Eastern Kings, a project the local council voted down.
"We're in a serious crunch in a climate crisis," said Steven Myers, provincial minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action.
Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, said the group is very disappointed it wasn't consulted about the change, which he learned about from a government news release Thursday.
"We do support the renewable energy, but municipalities under the Municipal [Government] Act, they have their own official plans and they issue their own permits," he said.
"There definitely should be some conversation with the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities when something this big is happening."
Myers responded by saying it should have been clear the province would make this change, based on a ruling from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission this spring.
Provincial Environment Minister Steven Myers says communities will soon begin to see the economic benefits of renewable projects. (Tony Davis/CBC)
In that ruling, the commission quashed a decision by the Eastern Kings council disallowing an expansion of the provincial wind farm in the municipality.
The IRAC ruling also laid out the path for the province to make regulatory changes allowing projects like this one to move ahead without municipal approval.
"Quite frankly, if [the federation] couldn't see the writing on the wall, then they weren't paying attention," said Myers.
Local council disappointed
The minister said the new regulations clarify powers the province already had to approve energy projects, which is why they didn't have to go to the P.E.I. Legislature to change the law.
"This is to take away any ambiguity that there might be in the legislation. Now we have regulations that say it."
Eastern Kings Mayor Larry Fitzpatrick, who was not in office when the council's initial decision was made, said he's disappointed, though more so with IRAC's decision than with the province's rule change.
We sit at these council meetings, we debate, we make a decision, we finally have a vote, and then could easily lose that vote or have that decision overturned.
- Larry Fitzpatrick, Eastern Kings mayor
"It is a little disappointing that we sit at these council meetings, we debate, we make a decision, we finally have a vote, and then could easily lose that vote or have that decision overturned," Fitzpatrick said.
The mayor hopes the province tries to build consensus on any future projects.
Myers said municipal councillors can plead their case to any member of his government at any time.
"Our climate action to me is very important," he said. "Sometimes you're not going to be happy, and I guess that's what elections are for."
Communities will see benefits, minister says
Myers said the new regulations give the province the ability to give projects a permit, but there are still rules — including a one-kilometre setback from residential properties — as well as other steps in the process.
"They still have to through an EIA [environmental impact assessment] process. They still have to do public consultation," he said.
"It's still a very lengthy process to develop renewable energy, and not just here in Prince Edward Island but anywhere in Canada that you would go you would have a similar type process. So this just removes one barrier."
He also said communities will soon begin to see the economic benefits from such projects.
"As the fall wears on, I think you'll see evidence of us trying to make the revenues from renewable energy be put back in the communities in a way that can help communities grow and prosper, and not just be a cash cow for government," he said.