1. Being a Good Neighbour

The preceding chapters of this guide explain Ontario’s rules for renewable energy projects under the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) regulation (O. Reg. 359/09). These requirements provide the tools for energy developers to be good neighbours in their communities. While this guide is primarily focused on helping applicants understand and meet their regulatory requirements for a complete application, it should be the goal of every applicant for an REA to develop a strategy for enhancing a long lasting positive relationship with local residents. Most of these projects will be in operation for over 20 years, so it’s critical that the public, municipalities and applicants get off on the right foot.

Rules in the regulation require applicants to prepare assessments and environmental reports to describe how the project will be undertaken to protect human health, the environment, as well as cultural and natural heritage resources. They are also required to develop plans for ongoing communications with the public both in response to complaints and in the case of emergencies. The minimum requirements provided by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) also include holding at least two public meetings (except small wind projects and on farm bio-energy facilities) and sharing reports and project plans with the municipality, the public and Aboriginal communities. However, meeting the minimum requirements may not be enough to be considered a good neighbour in some communities. Where a community shows a high interest or concern with an incoming renewable energy project, the applicant should consider going beyond the minimum requirements to help facilitate a positive relationship with the community. Below are some things that applicants should consider.

You can be a good neighbour by:

  • Engaging the public, municipalities and Aboriginal communities - early and often. While Ontario’s regulations have minimum consultation requirements, the more you engage the community, the better neighbour you will be. Early engagement will allow applicants to identify issues and opportunities, and allow time to respond or adapt accordingly.
  • Getting involved in local community projects. Getting the community involved in the development will lead to greater understanding and can help generate support. You might consider establishing a representative group or “Public Liaison Committee.” Having a group that represents local residents, the local municipality and other interested groups early demonstrates your intent to establish long-term positive relations and encourages local participation in the development process.
  • Making it easy for community members to express and resolve their concerns. One of the ways you can do this is by establishing a formal complaint resolution process and making it available early in the development process. There are rules in the regulation that require developers to have a plan to respond to the public and to provide information regarding the activities occurring at the project location.
  • Eliminating and/or minimizing impacts of the operation on the community by:
    • Responding promptly to complaints;
    • Having agreements on operation in place, e.g. voluntary slow-downs or shut-downs under specified conditions;
    • Working with the community to identify locally valued resources (e.g. heritage resources) and taking measures to mitigate impacts;
    • Considering provisions for adjusting a project’s setbacks/locations or operation practices (e.g. times of operation, turbine speeds) if a sensitive or concerned receptor (human or ecological) is in the area;
    • Ensuring that tourism implications are considered, both in the location of the project and the project as a whole; and
    • Considering visual barriers between receptors and a project (e.g. tree buffer or berm between road and solar farm).
    • Ensuring internal roads to facility components (such as wind turbines and ground-mounted solar facilities) are located in a way that impacts on agriculture are minimized. For example, roads should be placed along property lines or field boundaries to avoid bisecting fields. Width of internal roads should also be considered and not wider than necessary so they do not negatively impact surrounding agriculture.
  • Keeping the lines of communication open beyond the development and approvals stages of a project. Establishing continuing dialogue with the local residents for the entire project lifecycle demonstrates an ongoing desire to be a good neighbour by:
    • Maintaining a website and posting meetings, project reports and notification of any proposed changes to the facility including upgrades and maintenance to ensure the community is aware of workers in the area and reasons for their presence;
    • Responding to complaints in writing and demonstrating how issues have been addressed;
    • Maintaining customer service standards (inquiry/ response times, complaint resolutions, etc.) and posting information publicly;
    • Conducting site visits at appropriate times so that the community can see how the project is being maintained and how safety precautions are being taken; and
    • Providing ongoing information sessions and educational opportunities for local community groups/schools.
  • Consider joining an industry association; many developers are members of respective industry associations and commit to codes of conduct and ethics.
  • Pro-actively providing a code of ethics to the community can help demonstrate commitment to good environmental and development practices.
  • Documenting a Good Neighbour Approach in an agreement and making it publicly available for the local community to view.

If there are public complaints about an existing project in operation, the ministry will work with the developer to help them become a good neighbour.