NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—Municipalities will be given a much bigger say in where – or if – renewable energy projects are located, says Ontario energy minister Bob Chiarelli.
And Chiarelli said Ontario will abide by a World Trade Organization ruling that the province’s made-in-Ontario requirements for renewable energy projects violate trade rules.
Giving local governments more say in where energy projects – especially wind turbines – go is a political necessity for the Liberals. After the Green Energy Act removed all authority for the projects from municipal hands in 2009, the Liberals were wiped out in rural Ontario as resentment boiled over in the wake of unpopular wind farms.
Chiarelli promised that’s all finished.
In a speech to CanSIA, the solar energy industry’s association, Chiarelli said that from now on, wind and other renewable energy developers will have to get local support.
But crucial details are still to come. Only the broad strokes of the new system are being announced so far.
Energy planners will draw up regional energy plans, Chiarelli said.
Wind and solar developers will then have to make competitive bids to fill the need for renewable energy projects within those plans.
And successful bidders will have to show they have the support of local municipalities, he said – perhaps by offering them an ownership share in their projects.
To sweeten the pot further, he said, the property tax assessment for wind turbines will be increased, boosting local tax revenue. He wouldn’t provide a figure.
It’s not likely that municipalities would get an absolute veto over energy projects, however.
“Municipalities have to accept responsibility for solid waste in the municipalities, they have to accept responsibility for security of various types,” he said.
“There has to be co-ordinated planning in a municipality which includes energy,” he said. “There has to be a connection between municipal decision making and the need for that region to have energy.”
That could still lead to conflict with some municipalities that have flat-out declared that they are no longer willing to be hosts of wind projects.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had promised a kinder, gentler approach on renewable energy in the throne speech, also asked municipalities to look at the big picture.
“There’s not a veto power involved in this power but we always have to balance the greater good with the local good,” she said at Queen’s Park.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about building a deck on a house or …planning for green energy.”
“I hope it meets the needs of the municipalities but we’re going to work on it and my guess is it’s going to change over time.”
Chiarelli said the new rules will not apply to projects that have signed contracts; the Liberals don’t want to go through another firestorm like the one over the cancelled contracts for gas-fired plants in Mississauga and Oakville.
Municipal leaders were willing to give the new approach a chance.
Russ Powers, who heads the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, called the new policy “a welcome development.”
“The Green Energy Act in essence has forced projects onto municipalities…There’s been no opportunity for municipalities to have meaningful input.”
He said some municipalities are willing to work with developers and others aren’t: “It’s best to work with the ones that are prepared to consider it rather than force it on the unwilling ones.”
Industry spokesmen also gave the new policy good marks.
“We look forward to reviewing details of the announcement today and working with the government and all stakeholders in the days ahead to establish new long-term renewable energy targets and stable and ongoing new procurement opportunities,” said Robert Hornung of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
John Gorman of CanSIA said the solar industry won’t have a problem with the new system.
“From the solar industry’s perspective, I think dealing directly with municipalities is actually a more effective way we’re putting in projects in an acceptable way,” he said.
Chiarelli also said the province will abide by a recent WTO ruling that struck down the requirement for renewable projects to obtain specified per centages of goods and services from Ontario suppliers.
Again, the specifics of future Ontario policy haven’t yet been finalized.
Gorman said that scrapping domestic content rules won’t hurt the solar sector, which developed into a “robust and resilient industry’ while the rules were in place.
“Our members are telling us, and they’re demonstrating that they can compete now in select ways in global markets.”
With files from Rob Ferguson
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