O. Reg. 359/09 Renewable Energy Approvals under Part V.0.1 of the Act (REA regulation) is intended to support the Ontario Government’s Green Energy initiative to expand renewable energy generation, encourage energy conservation and promote the creation of clean energy jobs, while upholding our commitment to protecting the environment. The renewable energy approval (REA) process is based on clearly communicated complete submission requirements, whereby proponents of renewable energy projects know in advance what studies and reports are expected of them in preparing a complete application for a REA.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) is proposing amendments to the REA regulation to reflect the most recent Canadian Standards Association (CSA) 2013 Noise Standard, “Wind Turbine Generator Systems: Acoustic Noise Measurement Techniques”. The CSA Standard is used by proponents for the purposes of determining the sound power level of wind turbines under the REA regulation. The amendments also address advancements in wind turbine technology, issues related to operational flexibility and continued protection of noise receptors. An amendment is also being proposed that relates to the natural feature protection and assessment sections of the REA regulation to reflect current practices in the province. Additional minor amendments are also being proposed to clarify other aspects of the REA regulation.
The ministry is also proposing updates to the Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms. For more details on the proposed changes to the Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms, a link has been provided to the associated Environmental Registry posting.
Descriptions of the key proposed regulatory amendments can be found below.
Adoption of 2013 CSA standard (CAN/CSA-IEC 61400-11, Wind turbines — Part 11: Acoustic noise measurement techniques)
MOECC’s REA Regulation currently references the CSA 2007 Noise Standard, “Wind Turbine Generator Systems: Acoustic Noise Measurement Techniques”.
An amendment is being proposed to adopt the most recent 2013 CSA standard (CAN/CSA-IEC 61400-11, Wind turbines — Part 11: Acoustic noise measurement techniques) to replace the existing CSA 2007 Noise Standard.
The CSA standard is referenced in the definition of “sound power level” in the REA Regulation and is used by proponents to determine wind facility classification. It is also referenced in the specifications report, which all proponents of Class 3, 4 and 5 wind facilities are required to submit as part of a complete REA application.
Proposed Modifications to the Definition of “sound power level”
To reflect the ministry’s conservative approach to dealing with noise emissions from wind turbines and to support the adoption of the 2013 CSA standard, three amendments are being proposed to the definition of “sound power level” in the REA Regulation to provide clarity:
Clarify that the definition of “sound power level” refers to the rating expressed as an “apparent” value.
This amendment would re-affirm MOECC’s current requirement of the use of the “apparent” sound power level when conducting a noise assessment, and is reflective of the value used by other jurisdictions.
Modify definition to require the inclusion of the positive uncertainty value.
The ministry does not currently require the inclusion of manufacturers’ uncertainty values in its definition of “sound power level”. The “uncertainty value” is a +/- value assigned under the CSA standard to account for potential range of uncertainty in the sound power level rating of a wind turbine.
The ministry is taking the conservative approach in requiring proponents to include the positive uncertainty value, given by a manufacturer of the wind turbines under the CSA Standard, as a conservative value to be accounted for in noise assessments for their project.
Clarify that proponents are not required to use a rounded value when conducting a noise assessment in accordance with the ministry’s Noise Guidelines for Wind Farms.
Proposed Changes to the Classification of Wind Facilities and the Application of the 550 Setback
Due to technological advancements of wind turbines, such that new models are taller and quieter, amendments are being proposed to the wind facility classification table and to the 550 metre setback. The purpose of the proposed changes is to ensure that all wind turbines used on a commercial scale continue to meet all of the comprehensive standards in the REA regulation that were designed to be protective of human health and the environment.
The proposed regulatory amendment is to include a wind turbine hub height of 70 metres as additional criteria to the existing wind facility classification requirements of greatest sound power level (expressed in dBA). Complementary amendments would also be made throughout the regulation including the provisions governing the noise setbacks.
Proposed Exemptions for Changes to a Renewable Energy Project after a REA has Been Issued
To date, the ministry has issued a large number of amendments to existing REAs for minor project changes.
To address issues related to operational flexibility, an amendment is being proposed to exempt proponents from having to obtain an amendment to an REA for specified changes to the project that are not expected to have any negative environmental effects and/or are already occurring at the project location assessed in the original REA application. These specified changes cannot be within any of the setbacks in Part V of the Regulation other than s.55. Proponents would be required to provide notification of the change to the Director and the ministry’s District Manager in each district in which the project location is situated for record-keeping and monitoring purposes. Proponents would also be required to post the notification of the change on their website for public awareness purposes.
Specific changes to a project that would be exempt from an amendment to an REA may include:
A change that results in the reduction in the size of the project location, provided that there are no changes to the renewable energy generation facility;
A change in respect of a communications tower
A change in respect of a fiber optic communications line
Proposed Changes to the Definition of “Noise Receptor”
An amendment is being proposed to the definition of “noise receptor” to encourage timely information sharing so that planned noise receptors (e.g. homes, schools) surrounding a project are properly assessed and accounted for by proponents.
Currently, proponents contact municipalities to obtain site plan and building permit information to account for potential noise receptors that have been approved, but not yet constructed.
The ministry is proposing to amend the definition of “noise receptor” to specify that in order for an approved but not as of yet constructed building or structure to be considered a noise receptor, the municipality or landowner must disclose the site plan approval or building permit to the proponent within 60 days of the proponent making a written request for it.
Proposed Natural Heritage Amendments
Through the Renewable Energy Approval process, proponents are required to address potential impacts to the natural environment, including significant natural features (e.g. provincially significant wetlands, significant woodlands, and significant wildlife habitat).
This requirement is implemented in O. Reg. 359/09 under the EPA through both a setback from significant natural features, and natural heritage assessment requirements related to natural feature evaluation and mitigation of potential environmental effects. Reports associated with these requirements are reviewed and confirmed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) as part of the REA process.
An amendment is proposed to align the area of land that is to be searched and analyzed as part of a records review with the land that is to be investigated as part of the site investigation.
An amendment is also being proposed to revise the definition of “woodlands” to align with Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement (PPS), 2014. This relates to the natural feature protection and assessment sections of the REA regulation and reflects current practices in the province.
This amendment would align the geographic extent for determining woodlands with the 2014 PPS, requiring proponents to use Ecoregions instead of the Canadian Shield.
Other Minor Amendments
Minor amendments are being proposed to clarify policy and to ensure language used in the Regulation is consistent with other regimes.
To take into account the new amendments, a provision is being proposed that will allow proponents of projects who have entered into a power purchase agreement with the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) or Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) in respect of the supply of renewable energy from the facility and who have submitted a Renewable Energy Approval application or an Environmental Compliance Approval application to MOECC before January 1, 2016 to continue to apply the pre-2016 sound power level requirements in accordance with the previous REA Regulation.
For proponents of projects who have submitted a Renewable Energy Approval application or an Environmental Compliance Approval application to MOECC on or after January 1, 2016, the new 2016 sound power level requirements apply.
Proponents of projects that propose changes to a wind facility after being issued an approval before January 1, 2016 would be subject to the new sound power level requirements if the change was not previously approved and consists of any one of the following changes:
Changes in the location(s) of wind turbine(s).
Increase(s) in sound power level(s) of wind turbine(s).
Addition(s) of new wind turbine(s) to the facility.
Class 3 wind facilities with a hub height of 70 metres or more (excluding blade length) that were granted an REA prior to January 1, 2016, will not be subject to the 550 setback requirements unless changes are made to those turbines that increase their sound power level.
In respect of the amendment to the definition of woodland, the current definition will continue to apply to in respect of projects for which a REA application is made on or before December 31, 2015. The current rules that apply to projects for which a project notice was issued before December 31, 2010 are proposed to continue to apply.
For all other regulatory amendments, no transition provisions apply and all associated rules would be in effect as of January 1, 2016.
The proposed transition provisions ensure clear rules for applicability of the proposed amendments exist, and take account of projects already significantly underway.