It looks like it’s back to the starting line for virtually all the proposed industrial wind energy developments in Grey-Bruce.
Under a review of the province’s Feed-In Tariff program released March 22, wind farm developers – even those with projects in the pipeline for years – may have to reapply for the Feed-In Tariff contracts that guarantee them a market and price for their power.
“The government’s FIT review report recommends providing a transition process for all pre-existing FIT applications, allowing applications to transition to the eligibility requirements in the new FIT rules. The Ontario Power Authority is currently completing the draft rules and contracts to reflect the recommendations of the report,” Tim Butters, a spokesman for OPA said in an e-mail to The Sun Times.
“The current program provides priority through a ‘first come, first serve’ time stamp, but the (FIT review) report recommends prioritizing small and large FIT applications using a point system to benefit projects that have significant local community and/or Aboriginal partnerships,” the e-mail says.
“Significant local community and/or Aboriginal partnerships” – a minimum 15% equity share – are worth three points under the review recommendations, which the provincial minority Liberal government has accepted. The point system also allows for two points for municipal council support. A project should “have at least one point to receive a contract,” the report says.
To Mark Davis, the deputy-mayor of Arran-Elderslie and a vocal critic of the province’s green energy plans, all that means is a municipality which wants a wind power development may get it quicker than his municipality will have one forced on it.
“From what I understand those that want them will be fast-tracked. What about those that don’t want them? According to them, we’re still going to get them,” he said in a recent interview.
Davis dismissed the FIT review report as “just a fluffy-duffy crap document . . . that doesn’t change a thing.”
It does, however, reduce prices for wind and solar power. The price for wind energy will drop to 11.5 cent a kilowatt hour from 13.5 cents but wind farms, such as the proposed 115 megawatt Arran Wind Energy project in Arran-Elderslie, “are still viable financially,” said Jodi Jerome of Leader Resources, a development company working for American Wind Alliance on the project.
The review also calls for the Ministry of Energy and the OPA to “enhance municipal engagement in the FIT program . . . For large FIT projects, require contract launch meetings with municipalities, proponents, project developers, government representatives, utilities and agencies to facilitate early discussion, share information and define expectations.”
The province should “also revise the municipal consultation form in the REA (renewable energy application) process to better reflect areas of municipal concern, in consultation with AMO,” the report says.
But “there is no more municipal involvement whatsoever that I can see,” said Davis. “I’d like to have them to point out where there is.”
He noted that Arran-Elderslie hasn’t heard from Leader Resources about the Arran wind project “for a year or so,” something he credited to the bottleneck in approvals because of the lack of transmission capacity – that will end when Hydro One completes the new Bruce to Milton line, something that is scheduled to happen “sometime this year” – and “some good bylaws.”
Arran-Elderslie council has passed several bylaws that would impact on wind developments.
One deals with emergency responses at structures more than 45.72 metres (150 feet) high. It calls for a certified copy of a valid service contract with a high-angle rescue service provider “who shall respond to any and all emergencies that may occur at the proposed structure.”
It’s a matter of safety, Davis said. What if a guy, say a father of three kids, “has a mild heart attack and gets caught up in a ladder” of a wind turbine. “Our guys aren’t trained” to perform high-angle rescues, he said, so the developer would have to be able to provide such a service within a reasonable time before the municipality would issue a building permit.
Arran-Elderslie also has a bylaw that requires certificates from Health Canada and the provincial ministries of Energy and Infrastructure, Environment and Natural Resources “confirming that the proposed type of wind generation facility will benefit, or will not harm, the health, safety and well-being of any” Arran-Elderslie resident before a building permit is issued.
Jerome wouldn’t say if Leader would challenge those bylaws if the company receives a FIT contract for the Arran project.
“If we get a FIT contract we’ll work with the municipality on the understanding of those bylaws and how they apply,” she said. “I think we’d discuss the bylaws and the premise on which they’re passed and see if there is a workable solution.”
Jerome said Leader has not approached Arran-Elderslie council of late because “we were stirring up a lot more controversy” by holding public meetings and public sessions for a project that didn’t even have a FIT contract.
“It wasn’t in anybody’s best interest to keep pursuing that, so what we’ve done is we’ve slowed down on the projects . . . we just scaled back, decided to look at other projects in other areas for our team to work on,” she said.
The Arran project, she added, has “been on the go since 2007. There’s been a lot of changes over that time. It didn’t make any sense to continue on . . . until we knew exactly what was going on with the new FIT rules.”
Developing a wind projects “is a process of education all around,” Jerome said.
“It’s a matter of speaking to people’s fears because there are a lot of them out there and trying to make education and information as available as possible and then working within those parameters of how this is going to affect you personally. And you have to do that with each municipality because each municipality and the layout and the circumstances are unique.”
The province’s long-term energy plan calls for Ontario to be getting 10,700 megawatts of electricity from wind, solar and bioenergy by 2018. “We can say that we are well on the way towards our goal,” Butter said in his e-mail, noting that the FIT review also “states that at the end of 2013, the government should . . . explore whether a higher renewables capacity target is warranted.”