Ontario tweaks green energy rules
by Paul Morden, The Sarnia Observer
Ontario’s new rules for green energy projects should prevent solar farms from sprouting up on vacant residential lots, like one did in Alvinston more than a year ago.
The revised rules followed a review launched last fall of the province’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program for awarding contracts to buy electricity from green energy projects.
One change is to not allow new ground-mounted solar energy projects on residential property, or next to it.
“The only problem is that it’s not retroactive,” said Don McGugan, mayor of Brooke-Alvinston Township.
He sounded the alarm in the spring of 2011 after a ground-mounted solar farm was built on four vacant residential lots in a quiet Alvinston neighbourhood.
The lots were purchased by an out-of-town buyer and there was nothing municipal council could do to stop the solar farm from being built since Ontario’s Green Energy legislation stripped communities of their planning authority on renewable energy projects.
“I think the lobbying did pay off,” McGugan said about the FIT rule changes.
Unfortunately, he added, that does nothing for residents stuck living next to solar farms already built on vacant lots.
“They’re not going to come and make some guy move them,” McGugan said.
Kristin Jenkins, vice-president of communications for the Ontario Power Authority, said the review “was an opportunity to fine tune, and evolve the program” launched in 2009.
As part of the changes, green energy projects, including wind and solar farms, can now earn points to move up the priority list when FIT contracts are awarded.
Points will go to projects involving community organizations and First Nations, as well as those able to show they’re ready to be built or have the support of the local municipal council.
But, McGugan said, “I would think that, in rural Ontario, the odds of getting a municipal council to approve a wind project are pretty near nil.”
Opposition to wind energy has been growing in rural Ontario and several municipal councils in Lambton are calling on the province to stop approving new wind farms until the impact they have on the health of people living nearby is independently studied.
The review also reduced prices Ontario will pay for future solar and wind projects to reflect what it says are lower costs for the industry.
But, Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, has said the lower price “will prove extremely challenging for many projects and could prevent a number of them from proceeding.”
The authority expects to begin taking applications Oct. 1 for 200 MW of small FIT projects, primarily rooftop solar installations.
A new round of contracts for larger projects, including wind farms, “will be addressed at a later time,” Jenkins said.
The authority said in March that 1,976 MW of wind energy was in operation in Ontario and another 3,835 MW was under development.
That includes 250 MW in two projects planned for Lambton Shores, Warwick Township and Plympton-Wyoming that have FIT contracts and are now seeking provincial environmental approvals.
Plympton-Wyoming’s council has taken a hard line on wind energy, calling for turbines to be built no closer than 2,000 metres from existing homes.
That’s a condition wind developers will have to meet if they come calling for his support, said Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Lonny Napper.