The $7-billion energy deal with Korean manufacturing giant Samsung announced by the Ontario government was supposed to send about $750 million of wind turbine construction to Essex County, and maybe a manufacturing plant or two in Windsor or the county.
But 10 months after the deal was announced with great fanfare, energy experts and critics are still looking for some clear plan from the province that implements the Samsung vision of departed energy minister – and now failed Toronto mayoral candidate – George Smitherman.
Windsor and Essex County were supposed to be in the first phase of the Samsung deal with 260 megawatts of wind energy here, and 240 megawatts of wind and solar in Haldimand County, according to a September update to the province’s Wind Power Standing Committee in Toronto. Those projects are supposed to be in operation by 2013.
A 260-megawatt wind farm would require about 110 turbines with a total price tag of around $750 million, dwarfing anything already built here. Industry experts wonder whether enough farmland still not leased for other projects could be found to host it.
Some wonder if the province is going to reverse itself on recent promises to residents along shorelines and allow wind turbine developments on the Great Lakes. They see that as the only way to accommodate the deal that gave Samsung priority to generate some 2,500 megawatts of renewable power in Ontario.
As part of the 25-year deal, the province was paying $467 million to Samsung to build four energy-related manufacturing plants in Ontario. The only one with any details so far is the Siemens Canada proposal for a 300-job plant to build wind turbine blades for Samsung and other companies.
Windsor and Essex County are on the short list of the Siemens’ site search across southern Ontario, which could be concluded soon.
Answers to questions about the province’s future direction in energy – and the Samsung deal in particular – are coming in a matter of weeks, says Andrew Block, a spokesman for current Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid.
An update to the province’s long-term energy plan has been promised by the end of the year at the latest, Block said. Because of the size of the Samsung deal, “it would have to be factored in” to that update, Block added.
Brookfield Renewable Energy senior manager Ian Kerr is looking forward to the updated energy plan, and is hoping for some answers about how the Samsung deal will play out.
Brookfield has the biggest wind development now in Essex County – two projects with a total of 94 turbines and a construction value of about $650 million. One project is completed and the other is underway.
Kerr has no idea how Samsung could fit a 260-megawatt wind turbine project into Essex County, given the development that’s already occurred. The other obstacle is the length of time it takes to acquire land leases, and carry out environmental assessments.
Kerr said Brookfield’s projects in Essex County have been eight years in the planning. It appears Samsung has been attempting to buy up development rights to some smaller projects in the province to speed things up, Kerr said.
Kerr said Samsung could end up being a development competitor elsewhere in Ontario, but could also be a positive influence for overall growth in the renewable energy industry.
John Laforet, president of Wind Concerns Ontario, fears the province will allow wind energy development on the Great Lakes to give Samsung its opportunity to develop 2,500 megawatts of power.
Ontario Hydro has proposed an offshore wind farm in Lake Ontario. Leamington’s SouthPoint Wind has generated controversy with local residents and area municipalities with its proposal for 715 turbines in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. It received no mention in the list of 184 approvals announced by the OPA.
In Haldimand County, the Ontario Realty Corporation owns enough land to give Samsung a start on a project there, Laforet said. The land is currently leased out for farming and that’s created a backlash that food growing ought to take precedent over turbines, he said.
Laforet can’t make any sense of the Samsung deal. The company received approval to develop a massive amount of energy at premium prices over other developers waiting in line in a lengthy approval process, he said. “Samsung has the sweetest of sweetheart deals,” he said.
“It doesn’t make any business sense.”