Private wind developers looking to erect wind turbines in Lake Ontario and other major lakes have been told by the Ministry of Natural Resources to put their plans on hold.
The provincial ministry, in a note sent this week to prospective developers, said new applications for offshore wind projects are no longer being accepted and all existing proposals are being deferred until offshore energy resources and potential environmental impacts are more thoroughly studied.
It also said the deferral was the result of “concerns raised” about offshore wind farms, though the nature of such concerns were not disclosed.
Ministry spokesperson Steve Payne said offshore wind development is at an early stage in Ontario and there’s a need to study the issue more closely before moving forward.
“We believe it’s important to take a cautious and measured approach,” Payne said. “We’re gathering the data and information that will better inform us as we’re making decisions.”
Sources say up to a dozen offshore projects are already in planning stages, though none have reached power purchase agreements with the province.
Offshore wind energy is typically associated with ocean projects, but a 2005 study by Helimax Energy Inc. found that the strong and consistent winds over the Great Lakes has the potential to generate up to 47,000 megawatts of electricity.
Relatively little is known, however, about how wind development in the Great Lakes would impact bird migration routes, bats, butterflies and aquatic species.
Several studies, many in collaboration with U.S. authorities, are underway. The draft of a major joint study with the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to be complete by the end of March.
Eric Boysen, manager of the ministry’s renewable energy section, said the final analysis of that study should be done by mid-2007, but he couldn’t say how long the deferral would stay in effect. “It’s kind of open-ended,” he said.
John Kourtoff, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Trillium Power Energy Corp., which wants to build a 710-megawatt wind farm in Lake Ontario, fears that the moratorium could last until after the provincial election in October.
Trillium’s project would see 140 wind turbines erected about 15 kilometres offshore from Prince Edward County, just south of Belleville, making it the largest wind development in Canada. Kourtoff sees the deferral as a serious setback.
“Who knows when this will all get back on track,” he said, pointing out that the uncertainty won’t sit well with investors. “We’ve got money on the table, and we’ve got more investors coming. So it seems late in the game to put a halt on everything.”
Trillium has already paid more than $100,000 to the ministry for the right to explore and develop certain sites in Lake Ontario, the outcome of a site release program in 2004. Kourtoff said the ministry should have conducted its studies before accepting money from prospective developers.
Sources say the ministry woke up to the issue two months ago when a proposed offshore project in Lake Erie sparked fierce opposition in the Town of Leamington. Nearly 300 residents showed up to a council meeting in September to protest a 119-turbine project planned by local developer Southpoint Wind Power.
The town’s council unanimously rejected the project and called on the ministry to thoroughly study the issue and develop a policy framework before entertaining any more offshore projects.
Kourtoff said the Southpoint project had major flaws but shouldn’t tarnish other projects under development.
“We’re paying for the mistakes of those who haven’t done their homework,” he said. “It just seems so arbitrary.”
Steve Erwin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, said both ministries are committed to exploring the potential of offshore wind energy. The delay, he emphasized, “doesn’t mean these projects will never get up.”
Wind energy is a major part of the McGuinty government’s plan to double by 2025 the amount of electricity that comes from renewable sources. Ontario leapt ahead of Alberta earlier this week after the opening of the 189-megawatt Prince wind farm on the shores of Lake Superior, northwest of Sault St. Marie.
Ontario now has 413 megawatts of wind power generation, compared to 384 megawatts in Alberta.
The Ontario Power Authority recently recommended in a preliminary report that the province develop 5,000 megawatts of wind projects over the next two decades, but no mention was made of offshore development potential.
By Tyler Hamilton, Energy Reporter
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