Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is scrapping the Ontario government’s third renewable energy purchasing scheme in a decade—specifically those for large projects such as wind turbines proposed in South Marysburgh and multi-hectare solar projects like the pair stretching across about 200 acres on Burr Road near Highway 62.
In its place, Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announced last week a new power purchase process that, he says, will give municipalities a greater say in where these projects are located in the future as well as a larger cut of the taxes these projects pay. But the changes likely come too late for Ostrander Point or those living near the proposed White Pines project in South Marysburgh.
While wrapped in soothing phrases and likely intended as an olive branch to rural Ontario, Chiarelli’s words have left many in rural Ontario cold. The minister’s announcement, though surely designed to give comfort to constituencies that have turned against his government, offered few details.
Most worrying was that while promising to give municipalities more say over where turbines are constructed, that power won’t be bestowed until hundreds, perhaps thousands, more industrial wind turbines are erected on Ontario’s skyline. This is because projects already navigating the approvals process are unlikely to be subjected to the province’s new process.
Energy Probe’s Tom Adams estimates that the number or turbines in Ontario is set to triple from 1,300 to more than 5,000 over the next 18 months—each has a FIT contract in hand but has not yet cleared the approvals process.
YET ANOTHER NEW PLAN
Since the Green Energy Act became law in 2009—municipalities were effectively bystanders as developers and the province carved up the rural countryside for their projects.
Under the new plan large renewable energy developers must come to the municipal table before they seek a power purchase contract from the Ontario Power Authority. Chiarelli added that these prospective developers will have to compete among themselves for the approval of municipalities.
This likely means money. Developers eager to see their project proceed can be expected to offer even greater incentives to compliant municipalities. Further, the province has assured that municipalities will be permitted to tax these projects more in line with other commercial or industrial projects in their community. Previously the valuation for property tax purposes was capped at an artificially low level— draining the municipality of the full value of the potential tax base.
Not only did the local community have a voice— it didn’t get the revenue it was due either.
Wynne and energy minister Bob Chiarelli are betting that restoring a bit of both, even if its pledges are post-dated, will improve the Liberal Party’s fortunes in rural Ontario.
The reaction, so far, suggests they have failed badly.
In a letter penned to Premier Wynne on Monday, April Jeffs, mayor of Wainfleet, a rural township on the Niagara peninsula, expresses her “extreme disappointment” with Chiarelli’s announcement. She writes that Chiarelli has confirmed to her that the announced changes to the renewable energy program will have no impact on projects with existing FIT projects.
“Municipalities in rural Ontario continue to ask the government to respect the views of municipalities in decisions related to wind turbine projects,” wrote Jeffs. “We have seen the problems with the existing operational projects, and for this reason, many municipalities are not willing to host further expansion of the program in their area.”
Garth Manning, chair of County Coalition for Safe and Appropriate Green Energy (CCSAGE) offered this assessment of the minister’s announcement.
“Nothing in the announcement will affect the Gilead wind factory (only favourable results from the current appeals will do that) nor the wpd Whilte Pines monstrosity if approved,” said Manning. “It is on defeating these two projects that all our energies should be focused, not on dubious crumbs from the minister of energy who, and whose government, still hasn’t got it. Minister Chiarelli has provided far too little, far too late.”
Wind Concerns Ontario President Jane Wilson said that despite the minister’s announcement, very little has changed.
“It appears to be business as usual for huge wind power developers, and no regard whatsoever for the wishes of Ontario’s rural and small urban communities,” said Wilson.
County Mayor Peter Mertens is wary about the province’s change of course.
“A lot of what is in this announcement still must be qualified to know what it means,” said Mertens. “The devil is in the details—some other municipalities are concerned that these are just words, that when push comes to shove, the province will do what it wants— hope that’s not the case.”
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