Understanding environmental risk is critical for any renewable energy project. As discussed in the first article in this series, projects can be delayed, incur costly mitigation requirements, or even denied if environmental concerns aren’t properly addressed.
Environmental assessment (EA) requirements in Canada typically vary by province or within regions of a province, depending on variability of the enforcement of provincial regulations, the location of sensitive habitats, as well as public sentiment. As the renewable energy team at Ausenco has experienced, elements that lead to a renewable energy project being approved in Ontario may differ in provinces like Saskatchewan or British Columbia. In Alberta, we’ve also seen regulatory bodies apply new, and unique, regulatory policies, standards and best management practices to renewable energy projects compared to those required by other industry sectors.
These regional and sector differences require renewable developers to have in-depth knowledge of the area where they want to develop their projects, including the unique regulatory and community engagement processes. We have worked with project developers and stakeholders across the country to mitigate and manage varying environmental risks ranging from preserving sensitive species habitats to native grassland.
Here we take a look at some of our work across Canada, in particular the North, the Prairies and the Maritimes:
Regional differences need to be understood
Most provinces and territories approach their EA processes differently, based on their unique environmental landscape and regulations. For instance, Yukon has a co-management permitting approach where projects are reviewed and approved by the Indigenous community in which the proposed project is located. In provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, the provincial government handles EA applications and approvals. In the Maritimes, while each province handles its own approvals, there is typically a closer relationship with federal environmental agencies offering advisory services compared to other regions of the country. Lastly, projects located on federal lands (i.e., First Nation Reserve lands), or very large projects that are designated under the federal Physical Activities Regulation, will require federal environmental review and approval.
Below are some examples of the key differences in achieving project approvals within three regions across the country:
• North: Each of the territories has its own EA requirements and processes that have evolved from modern Indigenous land claims. Developers must work directly with Indigenous and local communities to decrease risks to their project approval and construction. Effective collaboration with Indigenous communities requires deep local knowledge of the area, the people, their priorities and values. We support our clients to understand how their projects can benefit local people and communities, whether it is an investment opportunity, energy independence, training or employment.
Based on our experience working with Indigenous groups within the territory, and wind energy projects in particular, Ausenco was chosen to conduct the traditional knowledge and traditional land-use study for the Inuvik Wind Project, working with the Government of Northwest Territories and Nihtat Corporation. As the lead environmental, socio-economic and assessment/permitting consultant for the project, We were responsible for building a regulatory roadmap from design to construction, including responsibility for all regulatory aspects of the project, except consultation. Our team effectively engaged federal, territorial and Gwich’in governments regarding the scope of design of environmental studies and completed intensive migratory bird surveys, grizzly bear denning and incidental wildlife observations while managing vegetation mapping — elements that were unique to the territory.
• Prairies (Alberta and Saskatchewan): Alberta has a very prescriptive EA process that reflects its direct-to-permit framework that allows commencement of construction upon approval. By way of contrast, Saskatchewan has a two-stage EA review process where project applications with minor impacts are screened out without incurring a more detailed assessment. In recent years, the government of Alberta updated its regulatory processes for renewable project development, which is managed by the Alberta Utilities Commission. Ausenco has helped renewable energy developers in Alberta to understand and interpret these changes to benefit their developments. An example is our work with TransAlta Corp.’s 206 MW Windrise Wind Project near Fort MacLeod, Alberta, which is set to begin operations mid-2021. Our team prepared the project’s environmental evaluation report, outlining the area’s environmental components, potential adverse effects, developed project-specific mitigation measures and proposed construction and operation monitoring. The approach we developed to create the environmental evaluation incorporated Alberta Environment and Parks feedback into the AUC submission, thereby reducing review timelines and information requests from the AUC. This approach helped TransAlta gain the fastest ever approval for a wind project from the Alberta Utilities Commission.
• Maritimes: The Nova Scotia government has recently updated regulations to allow for future growth of the renewable sector in the province. Given this positioning, Ausenco has established a stronger presence and expertise in the Maritimes region, bringing our decades of experience to the region to support our clients that are exploring the region for opportunities. A somewhat unique regulatory requirement for recently approved wind energy projects in the Maritimes is the use of marine radar to assess the potential collision risk to migratory birds. To help streamline this assessment requirement, our Nova Scotia based staff is positioned to assist with local experts to complete a multi-year, Nova Scotia wide, migratory bird and wind energy risk assessment, scheduled to begin in 2021. If this project proceeds, it will provide valuable region-specific information on bird movements to inform decision making by both wind energy developers and regulators, and aid in the siting of future wind energy projects in areas of least potential risk for migratory species. The goals of the project will be to help identify areas of lower environmental risk, streamline the EA approval process, minimize operational mitigation activities such as curtailment, and ultimately help reduce the uncertainty projects face regarding overall feasibility.
Local expertise helps promote project success
Ausenco’s EA teams have been on the ground for years, helping many of Canada’s largest and most challenging renewable energy projects cross the finish line. Our expertise and multi-disciplinary approach help steer projects through the complex assessment and regulatory processes on time and on budget. We also work collaboratively with stakeholders, including governments, industry, local communities, and Indigenous peoples, to deliver the best outcome for all parties.
Whatever your power project and regardless of what stage it’s in, we have the capacity and the capability to assemble the qualified, knowledgeable and experienced team required to minimise delays, smooth the path to environmental compliance, and deliver project success.
Our next article will look more closely at understanding EA commitments and how they impact construction and operation.
We are a recognised leader in providing environmental support to the renewable energy sector including wind energy, solar, small hydro, run-of-river developments, and associated transmission projects. We are experienced in managing environmental reviews under BC’s Environmental Assessment Act, Alberta’s Hydro and Electric Energy Act, Yukon’s Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, and the Impact Assessment Act. We have also completed many joint reviews and audits of proposed and operational projects.