Ontario puts flesh on standard offer program
The details of Ontario’s new standard offer program were released this morning, confirming what the Toronto Star already reported last week — the province will pay 42 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar-produced electricity and 11 cents for wind, biomass and run-of-the-river hydro power for projects under 10 megawatts.
We knew this was coming. I first wrote about the government’s intention last August, and many people have been waiting anxiously for the details to be hammered out. I was out covering this story for the paper today and am just now, after catching my breath, getting a chance to post something here. Gotta say I’m proud of my government, of certain hard-working staff at the Ministry of Energy and the renewables community, of Energy Minister Donna Cansfield, for pushing through what is being called the most ambitious, progressive and important renewables program in North America.
Wind-energy expert Paul Gipe, who as acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association last year helped push through the program, called it an “historic” day for Canada. “This is the most progressive renewable energy policy in North America,” he told me today.
As expected, contracts will be 20 years in length. The government said it hopes to see up to 1,000 megawatts of new clean power generation come online over the next 10 years as a result of the program, but that figure could be much higher since there has been no limits placed on growth. Of interest is that renewable energy systems already installed since Jan. 1, 2000, could qualify for the program — a welcome surprise for many people who have already invested the upfront capital without any expectation of higher return.
Across the country environmentalists, clean-energy companies and industry associations applauded the program.
* Mossadiq Umedaly, chairman of Burnaby, B.C.-based power electronics leader Xantrex Technology Inc., said the program will have a “significant impact on the solar and wind market for years to come” and will “stimulate significant investment in the renewable power sector in Ontario and Canada.”
* “Standard offer contracts will diversify Ontario’s emerging wind energy industry and will provide a mechanism through which farmers, municipalities and community organizations can develop clean wind energy projects,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, which said Ontario is “setting an excellent example” for other jurisdictions.
* “Ontario’s move is good news for Canada,” said Michael Carten, president and CEO of Sustainable Energy Technology of Calgary. “We work in markets like Germany, Spain and Italy, which have over the past several years implemented standard offer contracts. As a result, those markets are booming. Thousands of megawatts have been installed, and thousands of jobs have been created.”
* Rob McMonagle, executive director of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, said “Ontario is now investing in building a world leading solar industry based in Ontario.” CanSIA predicted that 15,000 new solar systems amounting to 40 megawatts would result from the program in its first five years. By 2025 it predicts 3,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity in Ontario and the creation of 40,000 jobs, compared to a few hundred today.
* Melinda Zytaruk, general manager of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, called it a “striking policy” while executive director Deborah Doncaster said it will encourage locally owned and developed “community power.”
* David Robertson, president of the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-Operative (TREC), said the program will “kickstart numerous projects throughout the province.”
Perhaps the biggest endorsement came from environmentalist David Suzuki, who was on hand with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Minister Cansfield to make the announcement. They chose the manufacturing facility of Cambridge, Ont.-based Spheral Solar Power (now Photowatt Technologies) to formally unveil the program. Suzuki, who celebrates his 70th birthday this Friday and doesn’t look a day over 55, called it a “very significant shift” in government policy that bodes well for the future.
“I congratulate our government,” he said. “You’ve now joined what is the fastest growing energy sector in the world. You’re going to join some of the leading countries like Denmark and Germany. I think you’re going to force the rest of this continent to follow suit.”
Suzuki said it was nice to see a government looking beyond the short term and the quick fix. “It’s not an accident that megaprojects are favoured by our political process, because they give the illusion of attempts to deal with problems and create jobs in the short term. The problem is in that equation children don’t vote. Future generations don’t even exist, so too often they’re left out of the political equation. What I see today is a remarkable shift, a policy that sets us on a course, whether or not the premier or the minister of environment (and energy) are still here… this is more than just about the next election.”
He said farmers and small communities will benefit substantially. “It means an individual farmer can go to the bank and say, look, this is what government is offering… there are a number of banks now saying come to us with a proposal, we’ll give you loans on that. So I think this is an enormous opportunity… farmers are going to be able to harvest two crops now. The one they get from the ground and the other from the wind.”
In fact, Premier McGuinty emphasized the opportunity for farmers, who could easily use or lease out their land for wind turbines. “You’ve got a farm income challenge? You’ve got land? We need clean electricity,” said McGuinty. “Let’s make a deal. Forget that big, lengthy complicated process we have for bigger projects.”
There’s no doubt about it. While widely expected, this is big news and will hopefully trigger similar announcements across Canada and the United States. That said, I personally don’t think — on the solar front — this is going to appeal to the average homeowner. It would be nice to see rebates for home systems, or at least see the federal government eliminate tax on equipment and installation, or offer some kind of tax incentive until prices begin to fall.
I’d also like to see a major program that supports the use of geothermal and solar thermal technologies as a replacement for natural gas, oil or electricity for heating. (But more on that later). I’ll be happy if you’ve read this far.