Controversies over the location of energy infrastructure are growing and public authorities have work to do to bolster public confidence. Policy and planning processes need improvement and much more needs to be done with respect to availability of information and means of engaging local communities in project decision, states a report released today by the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy project and Canada West Foundation.
The report, titled FAIR ENOUGH: Assessing community confidence in energy authorities, reflects views of a diverse group of energy leaders—environmentalists, regulators, policy makers, Indigenous leaders and senior executives from energy companies—who were asked for their views on the degree of trust in public authorities responsible for energy development. The results have been compiled into a framework of possible reforms that might guide policy and regulation. This framework will be tested in subsequent research in case studies in six Canadian communities that have faced proposals for energy infrastructure projects from wind farms and hydro projects to pipelines and power lines.
The report shows that leaders believe the decision-making system is not “broken” and there are many cases where sound decisions are reached and many communities are satisfied with the results. Yet, trust in the decision making system is lacking for several reasons. Decisions are hobbled by unresolved policy issues beyond the regulatory system, particularly on climate change and the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous communities. Individual project decision processes have become the default mechanism for dealing with issues like climate change that go well beyond any single project. There is also a lack of adequate forums for community engagement and accessible information.
“Communities expect to be informed and heard but at the same time we need to find ways to balance local concerns with the broad public interest. The challenge is to reinvent systems and processes so they better achieve this balance said the report’s lead author uOttawa Senior Fellow Michael Cleland.
The next phase of the research involves looking at the issue through the eyes of local residents in six communities across Canada. “The main point is to hear authentic local voices with minimum ‘noise’ from the usual suspects,” said Trevor McLeod, director of the Canada West Foundation’s Centre for Natural Resources Policy.
“This research highlights that the public confidence challenge has various moving parts requiring attention from both policy-makers and regulators. Reforming the regulatory system is not enough: policy change is also needed,” said Dr. Monica Gattinger, Chair of uOttawa’s Positive Energy project.
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