Those involved in the debate over solar and wind power projects in the Kingston area are taking a wait-and-see attitude to changes reported to be coming for the province’s feed-in-tariff strategy.
Media reports in Toronto said changes to the Green Energy Act will be announced next week, and are expected to include lowering the premiums to attract investment and giving municipalities more say in where new solar and wind projects are placed.
“I’d be very interested to see what the changes are,” said Ron Holman, mayor of Rideau Lakes Township, where eight solar projects have either been built or are planned.
“If there is any control handed back to the local councils, that certainly would be an assist to the municipalities. That (would be) a step in the right direction.”
Holman said his township has three key concerns about the construction of large-scale solar farms, including mitigating their impact on water quality, having final say of landscaping around the projects and increasing the setbacks for the largest projects.
One of the largest solar facilities involved drilling of 14,000 holes into bedrock to allow for the support structures for 168,000 solar panels. Complaints then surfaced about E. coli, chloroform and sediment in residential water supplies.
Holman said the water issues had been addressed and work was being done to improve the esthetic appearance of solar farm sites to eliminate situations where adjacent property owners end up with direct views of as much as 20 hectares of black solar panels.
Holman was cautious, however, and said the changes may have little impact because they would only cover new projects.
The majority of the projects in Rideau Lakes Township, he said, have already been built or approved and Ontario as a whole has little capacity for additional projects.
Janet Grace of the Association to Protect Amherst Island said she does not expect the changes to make any difference to the province’s solar and wind energy plans.
“I’ll be very surprised if it affects anything,” said Grace, whose group opposes a proposal to build 33 wind turbines on the island.
Grace said the provincial government has invested too heavily in solar and wind energy to take any action that will jeopardize the programs.
“I think the government is in way too deep,” she said.
Grace said the potential changes could be an effort by the government to repair relations with rural Ontario.
Changes to the province’s Green Energy Act were expected, said Warren Mabee, director of the Queen’s University Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.
“It has always been a bone of contention between the province and the municipalities,” Mabee said.
Mabee said the possible changes could affect plans for a pair of solar energy projects proposed for Kingston’s north end: a 100-megawatt project on 131 hectares of land in Kingston and Loyalist Township and a 10-megawatt facility on more than 26 hectares of land along Unity Road, Mabee said.
The Green Energy Act was passed in 2008 in large part to solve a backlog of projects that were stalled at the approval stage, he said. The act gave the province the power to decide where wind and solar projects were built.
“The government needs to fine-tune the act,” said Mabee, adding that he hopes the changes don’t create the same kind of backlog.
“If you look at Germany, it took them a few iterations to get their act to where they wanted it. It will take us a few iterations as well.”
Mabee said the possible changes could open the door for better discussion of the issue.
“Maybe things will be different because there has been an education effort,” he said.
“Maybe not. We’ll see.”
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