THUNDER BAY – On Tuesday, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association made a presentation to the Ontario Ministry of Energy Distribution Review Panel to provide information and advice regarding the electrical distribution system in Northwestern Ontario. The presentation focused on three recommendations: voluntary amalgamation, elimination of the current “business case” policy for new distribution, and the need for bottom up planning to replace the current top-down approach. NOMA Vice President Iain Angus, Councillor for the City of Thunder Bay, made the presentation.
Voluntary Amalgamation: Angus said, “If a municipal community has the critical mass to manage its own distribution system it would be incumbent on the Review Panel to demonstrate how the service can meet the needs of the users of the power supply as well or better with less cost through some other structure, one that does not jeopardize existing cost effectiveness or risk loss of collateral benefits to ratepayers. As to practicalities, the Review Panel…will need to understand the impact of factors unique to the Northwest Region, such as distance. Principles guiding any amalgamation process should include voluntary participation by the parties involved rather than a forced amalgamation based on what make sense in Southern Ontario.”
Business Case Policy: Under the current policies of the Government of Ontario a business case is required for the construction of any new distribution or transmission lines. The proponent, be it a new mine or a new generator, must pay for the construction of the required line to connect to the grid.
Angus commented, “As the Northwest is on the threshold of massive investments in mining, requiring significant construction and operation of infrastructure – from roads to telecommunications, to rail to electrical transmission or distribution – it is patently unfair for the northwest region and those who invest here to be forced to pay for the infrastructure that was publicly paid for to allow for the development of southern Ontario. This policy is not only unfair, but is discriminatory, in its requirement that the remote First Nations who must rely on expensive (from both an economic and an environmental perspective) diesel generation must prove a business case in order to be connected to the provincial grid.”
Bottom Up Planning: Requirements-type infrastructure planning starts on the premise that a problem has already been accurately identified and properly understood by the planner and that the proposed change will address the problem. The planning that results involves selection of a process, structure or system that will bring about the change. The final steps are the efficient implementation of the process, structure or system selected and an assessment as to whether it has been effective in addressing the identified problem.
By contrast, needs-analysis starts with a broad inquiry as to what the end users or beneficiaries of the infrastructure actually need and should reasonably expect to have. The planning that is involved turns on development of changes that can be expected to address the needs that the users or beneficiaries of the infrastructure have identified. There is no final step in needs-analysis planning; rather, there are objective assessments, and ongoing re-assessments, as to whether the infrastructure changes that have been developed and implemented actually address the needs of the users and beneficiaries and, where they do not do so on a continuing basis, needs-analysis planning continues.
Angus explained, “The distinction between requirements planning and needs-analysis planning is useful because what the Northwest Region has not had, in relation to power system infrastructure development in particular, is adequate needs-analysis planning. NOMA asks that the Review Panel recognize that the planning for the power system, distribution in particular, in Northwest Region should start with needs-based planning.”
Angus indicated that the panel members, all former members of the Ontario Legislature, were receptive to the arguments and reflected a recognition that the Northwest is different in many ways. “I am optimistic that the message got through,” concluded Angus.
The full presentation is available at www.noma.on.ca
NOMA represents the interests of 37 municipalities from Kenora and Rainy River in the west to Hornepayne and Wawa in the east. It provides leadership in advocating regional interests to all orders of government and other organizations.