1. Purpose of the Decommissioning Plan Report

The Decommissioning Plan Report (DPR) is described in item 3 of Table 1, found in the Renewable Energy Approval (REA) Regulation (O. Reg. 359/09). It is a mandatory report that is included as part of the complete application sent to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) for approval of all renewable energy projects that require an REA other than small scale Class 2 wind facilities (> 3 kW and < 50 kW).

A DPR is required to describe how the applicant proposes to restore the project location to a clean and safe condition, suitable for the likely future use of the land on which it is located. This includes retiring the elements of the renewable energy generation facility, restoring the land and water and managing the excess materials and waste.

At the time of submitting a DPR as part of an REA application, actual decommissioning will likely be a number of years in the future. For this reason, an applicant may not be able to predict with complete certainty the specific details of how decommissioning activities will ultimately be carried out. The importance of the DPR at the time of submission is to require the proponent to consider the proposed decommissioning activities and to identify negative environmental effects that will or are likely to result from decommissioning and outline potential mitigation measures when the project is still being planned.

In most cases, when a project is approved, the Director will impose a condition that requires the applicant to generate an updated and comprehensive decommissioning plan six months in advance of the start of decommissioning and submit it to the Director. While this final comprehensive decommissioning plan will be more detailed than the DPR submitted with an REA application, it is important that the submitted DPR still provide an outline of all anticipated decommissioning activities. This will be important for demonstrating to the ministry, the public, and other stakeholders that the applicant has carefully considered how decommissioning will be done in a manner that will mitigate negative environmental effects that may result from decommissioning.

2. Determining the Probable Future Use for the Facility

The first step in preparing a decommissioning plan is to determine the probable future use of the project location after the project is decommissioned. This determination should be made by the applicant and be clearly indicated in the DPR. To guide the applicant in describing the probable future use, the following should be considered:

  • For many projects the current land use prior to development of the project may be the most probable future use. For instance a wind or solar project on agricultural land would most probably be returned to a similar agricultural use at the termination of the project. Current zoning or Official Plans of the local municipality may be helpful in determining a probable future use.
  • Current zoning or Official Plans of the local municipality may be helpful in determining a probable future use.
  • If a wind turbine facility is located in a prime agricultural area, the land should be restored back to agriculture, with the same capability for agriculture that existed prior to wind turbine facility development.
  • If the project is located within a specified land use planning area such as the Oak Ridges Moraine, Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment, or the Lake Simcoe watershed, among others, the relevant land use plans may assist in determining appropriate conditions of the probable future use.
  • In some cases it may be probable that certain components of a facility would be needed for an alternative future use. For instance, a bio-energy facility may include buildings used for housing generating equipment and/or material storage that could be used for a future industrial use. In this situation, the applicant may define a potential future industrial use and create a DPR that reflects the activities needed to allow for this future use.
  • While defining the probable future use is important for creating a meaningful plan, the ministry recognizes the future use may change before actual decommissioning. Applicants will likely be required to update their decommissioning plan in advance of decommissioning and to describe if any circumstances have changed.

3. Content Overview

The DPR describes the plans for decommissioning the renewable energy generation facility; at a minimum, it is required to contain the following information:

  1. Procedures for dismantling or demolishing components of the facility;
  2. Activities related to the restoration of any land and water to bring the site into a condition consistent with the probable future use; and
  3. Procedures for managing excess materials and waste.

Since these items are contained in Table 1 of O. Reg. 359/09, the DPR must contain information about each of them in order to ensure that an REA application will be deemed complete when submitted to the ministry.

In addition to describing how the project will be decommissioned at the end of the project life, the DPR should also include a separate section with a plan for decommissioning in the event that the project is abandoned during construction. This plan should account for the mitigation of any impacts from storm water runoff or dust resulting from an incomplete construction process. The probable end use for the site if abandoned during construction should be the use of the site prior to construction.

Applicants are reminded that the Decommissioning Plan will be reviewed by MNRF to inform decisions on permits and approvals. For projects proposed on Crown land, the APRD requires the decommissioning plan to ensure that the project location is restored to a clean and safe condition as determined by the MNRF on a project basis. This includes the retiring, abandoning, dismantling, or removing from active service, working order, or operation all components of the renewable energy project, including access roads.

4. Description of Decommissioning Activities

Decommissioning of a renewable energy generation facility will require dismantling, the removal of equipment and site restoration. The DPR should provide a plan for the decommissioning of all structures, foundations and infrastructure that are not consistent with the defined probable future use. Applicants should note that practices that limit the need for clearing an area or that minimize other negative environmental effects that will or are likely to occur for the purposes of equipment removal are preferred. Any equipment or infrastructure not proposed to be removed should be clearly noted with an appropriate rationale justifying this approach.

4.1. Procedures for Dismantling and Demolishing

The tables below represent a general description of decommissioning activities for different renewable energy technologies. It should be noted that the decommissioning plan in respect of these activities should include, but is not limited to, the items presented in these tables. The probable future use of the project location should also be considered in selecting the appropriate activities from the tables.

Above-ground Structure Decommissioning
Renewable Energy Decommissioning Activities
  • Dismantling and removal of turbine components including blades, nacelle, tower and transformers.
  • Removal of cables, access roads (in consultation with the land owner, if applicable), crane pads/ laydown areas, transmission/distribution lines, buildings, transformers.
  • Dismantling and removal or cleaning/preparing for future use of above-ground buildings, structures, and equipment used for the generation of energy and the storage of process feedstocks and by-products.
  • Dismantling and removal of access roads and parking/loading areas as appropriate for the probable future use of the site.
  • Disconnecting and removing all transmission/distribution lines, connections and any supporting structures such as distribution poles, if applicable.
  • Removal of solar photovoltaic modules, mounts and supporting structures, transformers and inverters.
  • Removal of transmission/distribution lines.
  • Removal of access roads (in consultation with the landowner, if applicable).
Below-ground Structure Decommissioning
Renewable Energy Decommisioning Activities
  • Removal of the wind turbine foundation to an extent consistent with the probable future use.
  • Removal of any underground electrical lines.
  • Removal of below-ground structures, such as storage tanks, pipes, electrical components, foundations.
  • Disconnecting and removing all electrical lines and connections.
  • Removal of underground mounts, supporting structures, electrical connections, and foundational structures, if any.

In preparing the DPR, applicants should indicate the processes by which the equipment will be dismantled and removed from the site. This should be done to indicate commitments for mitigating negative environmental effects that will or are likely to occur. For instance, erosion and sedimentation control measures as well as other Best Management Practices could be proposed as mitigation strategies during decommissioning. Applicants should also consider the potential for the decommissioning activities to impact cultural heritage (such as archaeology) and discuss any steps that would be taken to assess/mitigate such impacts.

4.2. Site Restoration

In the DPR, applicants are required to describe how the lands and water will be restored to bring the site into a condition consistent with the probable future use. The site restoration activities that may be considered as part of the DPR include but are not limited to removal of all non-native material placed in the project location area including stone, concrete and asphalt. Restoration can also include seeding and re-vegetation to mitigate potential soil erosion. In describing the site restoration activities, applicants are strongly encouraged to consider the soil type as well as the size and type of infrastructure implemented and develop measures accordingly. For example, if the renewable energy generation facility is to be decommissioned to a probable future agricultural land use, the applicant should propose methods for restoring the nutrient content of the soil to provide for that use. This would include returning the soil on site, separated into soil horizons for restoration (i.e. topsoil, subsoil), restoring soil quality and preventing soil erosion.

4.3. Managing Excess Materials and Waste

In the DPR, applicants must describe the plans to manage the excess material and waste that will be generated as part of the decommissioning of the renewable energy generation facility. It is recommended that applicants provide a description of the type of the excess material and waste that would be generated as a result of the decommissioning of the facility. The DPR should describe how this excess material and waste will be managed including an indication of whether this material will be transported off-site. If the waste materials are expected to be disposed of at a landfill site, some information about the type of landfill site that would be used (e.g. hazardous waste landfill), should be provided. For bio-energy projects, for example, applicants are required to describe the process of the removal and proper disposal of any biomass that would remain at the facility. If any facility components can be recycled or reused, this should also be described. Where is it proposed to leave any materials on site, the plan needs to clearly explain how this will not adversely impact the current and likely future use of the land. Any material that would be considered waste must be disposed of in accordance with all applicable legislation.

5. Emergency Response and Communications Plans

Depending on the nature of the decommissioning activities proposed, applicants may need to include measures in the Emergency Response and Communications Plans to address concerns related to decommissioning. For a detailed discussion on Emergency Response and Communications Plans please refer to section 8 of Chapter 6.

6. Public, Municipal and Aboriginal Community Notification

The DPR may include decommissioning activities that warrant issuing notice to potentially affected stakeholders. For instance, a municipality should be notified in advance if decommissioning activities may impact local traffic on a municipally controlled road. At the time of submitting an application, the applicant may not be able to provide exact details about everyone who will be notified and at what time, however the application and DPR should be updated six months in advance of decommissioning. Applicants should also note that an Emergency Response and Communications Plan is a component of the Design and Operations Report that must be submitted as part of a complete application for an REA. Applicants can describe the details of who will be notified in relation to decommissioning activities in this plan and provide a link through reference in the DPR.

7. Other Approvals

Applicants should note that they may require approvals other than REA related, for their proposed decommissioning activities. For example, if the probable future use of the site is a more sensitive land use, the applicant may require a Record of Site Condition under the MOECC's Records of Site Condition Regulation, O. Reg. 153/04 made under the Environmental Protection Act.

For the renewable energy projects proposed to be located in an area under the jurisdiction of the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), the DPR must be submitted to the NEC as part of the NEC permit process. Applicants should note that for the decommissioning activities for a project located in an area under the jurisdiction of the NEC, they will require a Development Permit from NEC to carry out the decommissioning. It is highly recommended that applicants consult with NEC on the issues related to the decommissioning of a renewable energy generation facility if the facility is proposed to be located in an area under the jurisdiction of the NEC.

In addition, decommissioning activities may require permits from other agencies, including but not limited to, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and conservation authorities, as well as municipal permits. Applicants should also note that for projects within areas under forest management plans, there may be additional conditions regarding decommissioning and site restoration set out in the existing forest management plan that will need to be respected. For projects which will be located on Crown land, MNRF should be consulted for additional requirements.

8. Ongoing Compliance Monitoring and Financial Assurance

The requirements of the REA regulation and any conditions of approval attached to an REA issued to an applicant will set out the rules the project must follow to be in compliance throughout the project lifetime.

As part of our compliance monitoring approach, the MOECC undertakes unannounced, proactive inspections of renewable energy generation facilities. As well, the ministry routinely undertakes inspections, as warranted, in response to complaints. If a facility is found failing to comply with the conditions of it’s REA, the ministry can use enforcement powers under the Environmental Protection Act, as appropriate, to bring the facility into compliance.

The MOECC also has the authority under section 132 of the Environmental Protection Act to require Financial Assurance on a project-specific basis, on any project issued an REA. Typically the ministry requires Financial Assurance against potential future environmental impacts and liability and against potential future waste disposal costs.

Unusually, for Class 2 and 3 anaerobic digestion facilities and thermal treatment facilities that are managing waste as identified in sections 49, 50 and 52 of O. Reg. 359/09, applicants are required to provide an estimated Financial Assurance amount that is calculated based on the amount of waste that will be managed in such facilities. This calculation and the provision of funds must be made in accordance with the MOECC publication “Guideline F-15 (Formerly 02-03) Financial Assurance”, (Publication #0226e04). For projects that require a calculation of estimated financial assurance, this calculation should be included in the Design and Operations Report.

While well-planned and well-managed renewable energy generation facilities are not expected to pose environmental risks at the time of decommissioning, the ministry will use its powers of compliance enforcement and the requirement for financial assurance, as appropriate, to ensure risks are managed.