TORONTO – The Kathleen Wynne government is revamping the controversial approval process for large wind and solar projects to give municipalities a much greater voice, QMI Agency has learned.
The locating of such projects has pitted communities and neighbours against each other across Ontario, and the premier had promised to boost local input.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli will announce Thursday his ministry is cancelling the feed-in tariff (FIT) program for major renewable projects and replacing it with a competitive procurement process that will require developers to work with municipalities before seeking Ontario Power Authority (OPA) approval.
Under the existing process, a proponent can go directly to the OPA.
Chiarelli, slated to speak to the CanSIA Solar Ontario Conference in Niagara Falls, also will reveal the government intends to work with municipalities to increase property taxes paid on wind turbine towers.
The FIT program will continue for “micro and small” renewable projects, and priority points will be awarded to renewable projects that are led by or partnered with municipalities.
“They will have a much stronger voice in all of the significant energy projects,” Chiarelli told QMI Agency. “Communities spoke, mayors spoke, and we listened.”
Funding will be made available to help municipalities draw up local energy plans on a voluntary basis. Such planning would be used in the procurement process for large renewable energy projects to ensure they land in willing communities where the power can be easily hooked up to the transmission grid.
“We believe that process will result in a much higher level of buy-in and participation by municipalities,” Chiarelli said. “Most of the challenges and problems . . . have to do with wind.”
Many municipalities have complained that under the Ontario Green Energy Act they lost control over where large wind farms and other projects were placed in their communities.
While Wynne has not offered municipal governments a veto over projects, she has committed to provide them with a stronger role in the approval process.
Under the new procurement process, a large wind farm that is unwanted by the locals could easily find itself in competition with another project that has successfully secured support from a nearby municipality.
Antonella Artuso is QMI Agency’s Queen’s Park bureau chief