In its submission to the provincial government’s review of Ontario’s long-term energy planning process, the Society of United Professionals advocated for empowering the technical experts to provide their best analysis and advice to meet the government’s policy objectives.
This review is a valuable exercise that the Society hopes will get Ontario’s energy planning process back on track following years of extraordinary politicization of issues best solved by technical experts. However, history shows this is easier said than done. Governments of all partisan stripes have struggled to find the balance between providing appropriate direction and political interference that carries financial and reliability costs for ratepayers.
Working with technical experts, including members at the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and Ontario Energy Board (OEB) Locals, the Society developed a proposed model for long-term planning. This model sees politicians setting broad goals at the outset of the process. Technical experts at IESO would subsequently develop policy options to accomplish the government’s goals. OEB, in turn, would hold public hearings to scrutinize the IESO’s policy options and ultimately recommend the optional policy options for accomplishing the government’s goals.
While the government would retain final decision-making authority on long-term planning, a core feature of the Society’s model is openness and transparency. IESO and OEB would publish their recommendations so the public is aware of differences between the technical advice and analysis provided to government and the government’s final decisions.
The Society also recognizes that the government must retain the right to make decisions through ministerial orders. Though there are legitimate uses of these orders to respond to urgent and extenuating circumstances, the Society has long criticized the way in which these orders have been used to circumvent planning processes. In recognition of the balance required on ministerial orders, the Society proposes establishing clear guidelines for their use. Among those guidelines is that the orders be used as sparingly as possible and that directives be made in the spirit of the existing long-term plan.
The Society also commented on procurement processes. To streamline procurement, the Society proposes that IESO conduct small- and medium-sized procurements so long as they are consistent with the long-term energy plan. These procurements would be reviewed after the fact by OEB in order to identify any process improvements for future rounds of procurement. Large-scale procurement would see IESO make public recommendations to the government but government would retain ultimate decision-making authority.