Ontario aims to set continental standard with Green Energy Act
Tomorrow — Monday — is a big day in Ontario, and potentially across Canada. The Ontario government will be tabling comprehensive green-energy legislation that, if it lives up to promises, will blow open the market and make Ontario *the* place in North America to develop renewable-energy projects and establish manufacturing and supply chains to support them. It will equally emphasize energy conservation, putting Ontario potentially in the league of Denmark, Germany and California.
What to expect:
- The act will amend at least 15 existing statutes, including the building code, to put greater emphasis and priority on renewables and conservation.
- It will upload zoning authority regarding wind-turbine placement to the province, which will set an Ontario-wide standard. The government essentially wants to pre-screen areas considered “environmentally sensitive” and will establish firm set-back distances from residential areas that will fast-track projects that are often delayed at the municipal level, on a project-by-project basis, by NIMBY groups.
- Establish a “one-stop, one-window” approvals process so developers don’t have to navigate through so much red tape. Also, a guarantee to grant permits to project developers within six months.
- The standard offer contract, which pays a set feed-in tariff for small-scale renewable projects (under 10 megawatts), will be replaced by a more ambitious program that sets no limits on project size but will set tariffs based on the specific technology being used and size of the project.
- For the first time, the province will aim to eventually set feed-in tariffs for offshore wind in the Great Lakes and pump storage projects.
- Homeowners will soon have access to direct grants and low-interest loans to help pay for technology and appliances that make their homes more energy efficient.
- New policies will flow from the legislation that support co-operatives of farmers, homeowners and businesses that want to invest in renewable-energy projects.
- All homes being sold — resale or new — will have to have an energy audit conducted so buyers know the energy efficiency of the home up front.
- There’s also talk, not yet confirmed, that the government aims to socialize the cost of feeder lines that need to be built to enable renewables. Local-content requirements are also being considered, though this is very preliminary. The government is also looking at possibly supporting the bulk purchase of turbines and solar panels to make it easier for individual community co-ops to get product at competitive prices and without having to wait in line behind bigger projects that are given higher priority by manufacturers.
The bottom line is that the government — and particularly Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman — appears quite serious about turbo-charging Ontario’s renewable-energy sector in a way that will attract investment and jobs. In a speech he gave on Friday, Smitherman used the word “certainty” several times, with emphasis, to get across the point that Ontario through this legislation will be the place for development, manufacturing and investment. “If passed, it will propel Ontario forward to be the North American green energy leader,” he said. “With this single bold move, we join global green power leaders like Denmark, Germany and Spain.”
In an interview after his speech, Smitherman said the goal is about “making sure we’re moving in a way that gives Ontarians the opportunity for jobs in the green economy. The jurisdictions that get there first and have certainties associated with the processes are going to benefit first. We’re taking Ontario to the front of the pack.”
It’s a good target to have. All eyes will be on the details released Monday, and the policies that will flow from this framework over the coming months. Ultimately, however, it’s about putting words into action.