Which way is the wind blowing?

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

Seems like we may be in for some stormy weather in Ontario when it comes to the government’s alternative energy plans

March 15th, 2012

windfarm

Photo by Brian Snelson

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Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor

The Ontario government enacted the Green Energy Act in 2009, intending to jump-start the green economy, by encouraging job creation in alternative-energy industries and weaning us off dirty power generation, such as the demon coal. Part of the plan was the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) and MicroFIT programs, incentives for industrial- and small-scale wind, solar, geothermal, etc., installations. A review of the FIT programs, and the generous initial rates that it has been paying to energy producers, got underway last fall and the results of that review are expected shortly. Now that the program has been operational for a couple of years, and has been successful in getting applicants and in building up the relevant industries—solar panel and wind turbine production in particular—the rates that the Ontario Power Authority is willing to pay are likely to fall, as has happened in other jurisdictions that have gone through this process long before we have here in Ontario. Germany’s equivalent tariff program, for example, has a built-in annual reduction of nine per cent for its solar power producers. And this would be exactly what Don Drummond called for in his recent report on the prospects for the Ontario economy.

Unfortunately, the FIT review has taken too long. Some applicants have been waiting since last September and even earlier for the government to decide how much it will pay them for the power their installation will generate. They have invested money in infrastructure and haven’t been able to begin to get a return on that investment or even know how much of a return they will get. The manufacturers are also in stasis, and workers have been laid off because of the wait. When the government reaches its decision on the program, it will be greeted with much expectation.

Meanwhile, a debate is raging over whether Ontario should be encouraging the development of alternative energy in the first place. Just this week, Wind Concerns Ontario, a lobby group of a number of volunteer organizations, issued a report that has an unequivocal recommendation: “Cancel the FIT and MicroFIT programs immediately.” The group contends that there are “unintended consequences” to the current policy, including exorbitant electricity prices, diminished property values for neighbours of rural wind turbines, and health problems for “a significant proportion of rural residents as an indirect effect of exposure to the environmental noise and vibration produced by industrial wind power generators.”

An industry forum on the FIT programs is scheduled for April 3 and 4 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Wind Concerns Ontario and other groups are planning to protest.

What do you think? Should Ontario continue to encourage alternative energy development? If you cottage near a wind farm, I’d love to hear about your experience. What effect has the structure had on your life? Are you for it or against it?


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Penny Caldwell