London Free Press, November 24, 2015
by John Miner
In a province where it’s been deeply polarizing and hugely costly, wind energy hasn’t lost its steam.
So many applicants are chasing Ontario’s next round of wind-energy contracts and deals to supply solar power, the Crown corporation in charge has postponed for months decisions about who will get the business.
“It’s important that we get this right,” said Shawn Cronkwright, director of renewable energy procurement for Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).
The delay, coincidentally, comes as the Liberal government on Tuesday rolled out its light-on-detail strategy to fight climate change, a move driven partly by the shutdown of Ontario’s dirty coal-fired power plants that were among eastern Canada’s worst greenhouse gas producers.
The closing two years ago of the coal-burning plants, including one near Sarnia, opened the door to more green energy in Ontario, including wind power — most of which is concentrated in Southwestern Ontario.
The IESO had expected to award the spoils from the next round of green energy this month or next.
But after receiving a flood of multiple bids from both Canadian companies and international energy giants, the agency has changed its timetable for announcing the winners to next March.
One critic said the delay only means more anxiety for areas and people that don’t want wind farms.
“It’s terrible,” said Jane Wilson, president of Wind Concerns, an umbrella group for Ontario groups opposed to wind energy.
“It is quite a disappointment. People were hoping they would know sooner than March,” she said.
Ontario’s early round of wind-energy contracts became a lightning rod for political opposition, and angered many rural areas, with companies paid far more to generate power than consumers pay and control taken away from municipalities over where the highrise-sized wind turbines could be built.
But under new rules, for a smaller piece of the energy pie, the sweetheart deals are gone — firms must bid on price, and those that get civic councils, land owners and First Nations on board get extra points.
The new requirements have made for a complicated evaluation process, Cronkwright said.
“We are working as fast as we can,” he said.
A relatively small amount of power is up for grabs in the latest round of contracts, 300 megawatts. That’s a fraction of the more than 19,000 megawatts Ontario was projected to need for its peak demand Tuesday.
Even with the small spoils in the next round of contracts, however, the system operator received 103 bids from energy firms under the new rules, including proposals to build giant wind farms in Chatham-Kent and Lambton and Elgin counties.
Unlike Wind Concerns, a group representing the wind energy companies was more sympathetic to the delayed contract awards.
“There was tremendous interest in Ontario’s Large Renewable Procurement Program, which attracted a significant amount of applications,” Jean-Francois of the Canadian Wind Energy Association said by email. “We understand that the IESO needs more time to evaluate all bids and we are confident that the IESO is doing everything they can to ensure there is an effective process in place.”
Wind energy has been divisive in Ontario since the Liberals plunged into green energy with 2009 legislation that ushered in an era of fixed-price contracts subsidized by taxpayers and stripped municipalities of control of where the mega-projects could be built.
Dozens of municipalities declared themselves “unwilling hosts” for the projects, and the-then provincial auditor general in 2011 found the generous 20-year contracts wasted billions of dollars and drove up electricity costs.
The province countered that it needed to act fast to kick-start green energy and create 40,000 jobs, but the spending watchdog noted most of those jobs were in construction and would only last a few years.