Environmental Review Process Changes will Impact Top 100 Projects

While many projects on ReNew Canada’s Top 100 projects are well past the environmental review phase, certain projects could still see the benefits of the federal government’s recent changes to the environmental review process. Budget 2012 sets out a number of issues it will address to move projects through the environmental assessment (EA) phase faster than the current regulatory system allows. There are four key changes being made to the regulatory framework of the EA process:

1)      Establish and set timelines for major energy projects

2)      Reduce duplication and regulatory burdens

3)      Strengthen environmental protection

4)      Enhance consultation with Aboriginal peoples

For major energy projects, such as the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric project, approved in March 2012, the reduction of duplicated testing and report processes could dramatically reduce the timeline to project approval. By establishing set timelines for project reviews, the government is attempting to reduce the financial burden and risk to developers, with the intent of creating a more positive atmosphere for investment.

While reducing overlapping regulations is important, as is providing an accurate timeline for approval, it remains to be seen how the regulatory changes will impact projects that have cross-jurisdictional boundaries, such as pipelines or transmission lines.

As for the Top 100 projects, one project that stands to benefit substantially from these changes is the Site C Clean Energy Project in British Columbia. Because the review process is in the early stages, a reduction is reporting requirements alone could potentially ensure that this project is approved faster.

Of course, major regulatory overhauls don’t happen overnight. A shift towards these changes should probably be expected to take four years or more to fully implement. With hundreds of projects in various stages of development across the country, coordinating the shift to a new regulatory structure is going to be a challenging task.

The changes will have their most significant effect on future projects on the Top 100 list. The budget document highlights the NaiKun Wind Energy Project, a proposed $1.6-billion wind farm that is to be located off the coast of British Columbia. We put it on the Top 100 list in 2010, but  removed it when significant development hurdles, including delays in the necessary environmental approvals, stalled the project. If these changes are implemented, this project could easily return to a spot in the top 10 projects.

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