The U.S. firm awarded $25 million in damages after the province stalled its Lake Ontario wind farm says it’s hoping for an “amicable” solution allowing the $5.2 billion project to go ahead.
“We’ve never found ourselves in a situation like this,” David Mars of Windstream Energy said Thursday of the Liberal government’s 2011 moratorium that halted development of offshore wind projects.
“We’re willing to reach out to them and find an amicable solution,” he added. “We never thought the Ontario government would be so difficult to deal with.”
Windstream filed a $568 million complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) over the moratorium and was awarded $25 million in damages, as the Star first reported last week.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was non-committal on Windstream’s project Thursday, saying the moratorium remains in place while the government studies research into the environmental impact of offshore wind turbines.
“I want to make sure this gets done right,” he told reporters after Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown raised Windstream in the Legislature’s daily question period.
“The Liberals have two choices – build the project and pay out $5.2 billion or enter into settlement negotiations to try to convince Windstream to take less. Either way, Ontario is on the hook for billions,” Brown charged.
While the NAFTA arbitration panel ruled the Windstream contract remains in force, Mars downplayed the possibility of further legal action for the project off Wolfe Island, near Kingston.
The electricity was to be worth $5.2 billion over a 20-year contract in 2012 terms, but the value would now be $5.5 billion adjusted for inflation, Mars said.
The moratorium came just six months after Windstream was awarded a contract to build the 300 megawatt wind turbine installation.
The halt came amid community opposition to the project just seven months before the 2011 election that saw then-premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal administration reduced to a minority.
His government also cancelled natural gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga, prompting charges from opposition parties that the measures were to save Liberal MPPs from defeat.
“What we have now is basically the same thing that happened with the gas plants,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday.
“For the purposes of saving a couple of seats, the Liberals put the brakes on this potential operation and who knows what the people are going to be on the hook for?”
Progressive Conservative MPP John Yakabuski, his party’s energy critic, said the PCs oppose offshore wind power. The New Democrats have no objections to it, but Horwath said “at this point I don’t know that it’s necessary.”
Last month, the Liberal government cancelled plans for another $3.8 billion in renewable energy projects, saying the province has a surplus of electricity and doesn’t need them as it tries to reduce skyrocketing electricity costs.
The government has been under fire for rising hydro costs and passed a law Wednesday that will waive the 8 per cent provincial tax on electricity bills starting in January.
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