Ontario has revamped its approach to green energy, but a local request has been left out of the equation.
In December, Melancthon council asked the Ministry of Energy to cap the number of turbines a municipality hosts to one per every 2.5 sq. km. The request was not included in a recent review of the provincial Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program.
“We didn’t do everything that everybody wanted. Some would want us to go further, some not as far,” Energy Minister Chris Bentley told The Banner on Thursday (March 22). “We struck the right balance for the people of Ontario.”
That balance reportedly included input from 2,900 submissions, as well as 1,700 individuals who participated in a webinar, and 80 meetings on the program.
“It’s fair to say we listened very extensively and the report reflects much of the advice we were given. Not everything, but much of the advice we were given,” Bentley said. “We took into consideration all the various concerns comments, questions and advice.”
FIT revisions include introducing a point system that ranks green energy projects based on municipal support, community participation and the involvement of local institutions, such as schools or hospitals.
“The projects that have broader support are the ones most likely to be approved,” Bentley said. “What people will know from this point on is if you’re interested in getting your project approved, you’ll want to do whatever you can to get municipal support or community involvement.”
Bentley added the point system does not include an approval benchmark required to enter the FIT program.
“There is a lot of competition. There is a lot of interest in renewable energy,” the minister said.
When a FIT project is approved, a meeting between the municipality, community and developer is now mandatory. A municipal veto on green energy projects, however, is still out of the question in the province’s eyes.
“I think it would be fair to say people will look at the review and see we’ve listened,” Bentley said.
Melancthon Mayor Bill Hill, whose municipality is home to 118 turbines and has as many as 60 more on the way, said he is disappointed the turbine cap request was denied. The mayor also voiced his displeasure with the FIT changes that were included.
“They haven’t really made a lot of provisions to deal with some of the issues we have dealt with in the past – such as setbacks,” Hill said. “Frankly, I don’t see a lot that is going to help municipalities.”
Hill added he would have liked to municipalities gain more power during the consultation process.
“There isn’t, as I see it, powers for the municipality to really get in and negotiate with the developers,” Hill said. “There is just going to be more people involved.”
Melancthon wasn’t the only municipality snubbed by the FIT review. Clarington’s request for a moratorium on wind turbine projects – pending independent studies examining possible health effects – was also denied. Bentley said the ministry is content with the Medical Officer of Health’s diagnosis.
“The medical Officer of Health of Ontario and Canada have been clear on this,” Bentley said. “Clear on the fact there are not health effects from noise from wind turbines that they’ve been able to identify.”
The FIT review includes lowering tariffs paid for renewable energy. Electricity generated through solar power will sell for about 20 per cent less than previous FIT rules, while wind energy tariffs fall 15 per cent.
“That’s as we expected,” Bentley said. “The costs of components are lower today than when we launched this.”
Dufferin-Caledon MPP Sylvia Jones questioned the new tariff reductions, as the cost of manufacturing components for green energy has dropped 50 per cent.
“I don’t think there are going to be people disappointed with the 20 per cent decrease,” Jones said. “I think the bottom line is this is a very, very expensive subsidy program.”
As well, the FIT review should have included a municipal veto for green energy projects, according to Jones.
“Municipalities have planning controls for almost everything else you can name,” Jones said. “Yet for some reason we’ve separated green energy projects.”
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