The final report of Ontario’s Electrification and Energy Transition Panel was released on January 19, 2024. The report is expected to help achieve collaborative and integrated community energy transition across Ontario, if key recommendations are followed.

The report outlines the framework for developing a prosperous clean energy economy in Ontario. It recognizes the work already underway, and recommends a series of actions to help align government, economic and social forces for long-term success.

Established by the Ontario Government in April 2022, the panel was given the following two objectives:

  •  Advise government on the highest value short, medium, and long‑term opportunities for the energy sector to help Ontario=s economy prepare for electrification and the energy transition.
  • Identify strategic opportunities and planning reforms to support emerging electricity and fuels planning needs in the context of energy demand, emerging technologies, environmental considerations and overall costs to consumers.

Those opening the report and looking for answers to at least some aspects of these objectives may be disappointed. For example, the report is no better than extremely fuzzy when it comes to identifying “the highest value short, medium, and long‑term opportunities for the energy sector”. It frequently repeats the mantra that there are such opportunities but this final report firmly leaves the reader wondering what they are.

On the other hand, the report does give those who are interested in how government policies can help shape private sector economic growth may have been given at least some food for thought. This is an area long overdue for policy study and debate. Governments are all too willing to promise to boost the electric vehicle battery sector or the clean tech sector (whatever that may be) but even in this regard the Panel Report does not go much beyond food for thought. It even contains some contradictions, as if the Panel was trying to satisfy all the diverse interests. Maybe it was simply trying to reconcile the Ontario Government’s already established interests with those of other stakeholders. Certainly the energy policy arena is one that is filled with conflicting interests and preferred objectives.

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The first group of recommendations relates to planning for the clean energy transition and places virtually all planning responsibility on the provincial Cabinet and the Ministry of Energy. At the same time the four recommendations on consumer, citizen and community perspectives include the advice that “The government, IESO and OEB should play a key role in engaging with the public and Indigenous partners to ensure transparent access to high‑quality information and meaningful opportunities to participate in decision‑making.” If the lead decision-making body is a Cabinet committee one can be sure that meaningful public participation in decision-making will not take place for the simple fact that Cabinet committees are always empowered to carry on their business behind a strong veil of secrecy.

Under the heading Governance and accountability is the recommendation “The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) should take steps to enable the effective evolution of innovative business models in line with clean energy economy goals and to help consumers benefit from electrification and the energy transition.” This is an ambitious goal, though one must wonder why the OEB and the IESO have been proposed for the mandate to achieve such an objective when, especially for the IESO, it is far from their current mandate.

An illustration of the Panel’s “say little but offend no one” strategy is a recommendation that states “The Ministry of Energy should take further steps to reflect in policy and regulation the key role that clean, affordable and reliable energy will play in the development of globally competitive and future‑oriented industries by enabling proactive planning decisions, fostering effective and efficient permitting and identifying key clean energy value chains.” Under the heading “Innovation and economic development” one is immediately led to wonder why this role is not recommended for the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade which is surely a more appropriate location for activity to develop globally competitive and future-oriented industries than the Ministry of Energy.

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Of course the interesting discussion about how to develop and implement policies to achieve the best clean energy transition may at the end of it all be completely irrelevant. Since 1906 when Premier Whitney appointed Adam Beck the first chairman of the Hydro‑Electric Power Commission in Ontario almost all key policy decisions affecting electricity in Ontario have been made in the Premier’s office. It will be amazing if that tradition changes now.

Ontario’s clean energy opportunity: Report of the electrification and energy transition panel can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/document/ontarios‑clean‑energy‑opportunity‑report‑electrification‑and‑energy‑transition‑panel

Colin Isaacs is a chemist with practical experience in administration, municipal council, the Ontario Legislature, a major environmental group, and, for the past three decades, as an adviser to business and government. He is one of the pioneers in promoting the concept of sustainable development for business in Canada and has written extensively on the topic in the popular press and for environment and business platforms.

 

Featured image credit: Getty Images

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