Premier Doug Ford’s axing of more than 750 green energy projects has cost taxpayers $1.1 million in financial penalties so far, but with hundreds of companies yet to apply for compensation there are fears the $231 million earmarked this year won’t be enough.
The $1.1 million is shared by 13 renewable energy firms – an average of $84,615 each – although the government agency that handles the contracts won’t provide details despite calls from opposition parties in the legislature for a review by Ontario’s auditor general.
“We are not able to provide a breakdown of how much was reimbursed to each affected developer because it is confidential,” the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) said in an email to the Star.
“The amount each affected developer is entitled to is dependent on how far along in development their project was at the time of termination,” IESO spokesman John Cannella added, noting the affected projects were in “early stages.”
To date, the agency has received 215 applications from developers that are now being considered for reimbursement – leaving more than 500 developers yet to apply. Payments are for eligible pre-construction development costs that can be confirmed.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is urging the Progressive Conservative government to call in auditor general Bonnie Lysyk to ensure transparency amid concerns costs could balloon as they did after a previous Liberal administration scrapped two gas-fired power plants before the 2011 election. Lysyk found those costs could total $1.1 billion over 20 years.
“While they were quite adamant that the auditor general should look at those numbers when the Liberals were in office, now that they’re in office they are trying to avoid the auditor general’s scrutiny…people deserve to know how much this boondoggle is going to cost,” Horwath said Monday.
“We are very, very concerned that the $231 million they’re admitting to is going to grow quite a bit larger, which is what happened with the gas plants scandal.”
Ford said the cancelled projects – including the White Pines wind farm in Prince Edward County – saved electricity ratepayers $790 million because the power wasn’t needed. Settlement negotiations are continuing with White Pines and the payout is expected to be as much as half the $231 million, or more, as the nearly completed project is decommissioned.
“If we could cancel another $790 million and save the taxpayers…I’ll do that all day long,” the premier added, blaming expensive renewable energy contracts for pushing hydro bills too high under the Liberals.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford said electricity costs risk “putting Ontario out of business” and referenced the government’s promise to cut hydro costs a further 12 per cent, although the Ontario Energy Board recently allowed a winter rate increase to cover the costs of inflation.
“We’re going to see to it that energy costs are reduced.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the compensation arrangements leave “a ton of questions.”
“It’s completely irresponsible that this government would rip up contracts and expose Ontario to the financial risks of $231 million, possibly more, who knows? We don’t know. I think the public has the right to know,” he added.
“They said they wanted transparency but they don’t seem to want transparency when it comes to their own hydro boondoggles.”
The projects were cancelled in July 2018, just a few weeks after Ford’s PCs reduced Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to just seven MPPs in the provincial election.
“Last year, when the premier first announced the he would be tearing up contracts and tearing down wind farms, the Ford government insisted that it wouldn’t cost us a dime,” Horwath said in the legislature’s daily question period Monday.
“When they found out it would cost us $231 million, they quietly buried that number and hoped that no one would notice it. Now the premier says the costs won’t climb higher. Why should anyone take the premier’s word?”
The figure was contained in public accounts documents released recently by the ministry of energy. Rickford has said any unspent funds from the $231 million allocation will be returned to government coffers.
Officials at the IESO said they have asked developers of the cancelled renewable energy project to submit claims by Dec. 31 and they hope to complete the compensation payments by the third quarter of next year.
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