Ontario goverment, power authority try to make good on controversial tariff reduction proposed for ground-mount PV solar projects

The Ontario government and its energy planner, the Ontario Power Authority, sparked a big firestorm after announcing last month that they wanted to reduce the feed-in-tariff rate for small ground-mount solar PV projects to 58.8 cents per kilowatt-hour from a very rich 80.2 cents. The move caught many off-guard, and while there was a lot of grunting about the reduced rate, most were unhappy with the sudden and arbitrary nature of the announcement, which undermined the business plans of many companies that were participating in the program in good faith. Bottom line: it undermined confidence in the entire program, even though from a megawatts perspective it only dealt with a tiny portion of green power.

After a brief consultation period it seems the government and Ontario Power Authority took the industry’s complaints to heart, even though my own sources told me just recently that the government was being pig-headed and planned to stick with its proposal. In the end, they caved in to pressure — a very smart face-saving move, I might add. The price reduction will still take place, but it will be reduced to 64.2 cents, not 58.8 cents, and it won’t apply to anyone who applied to the program before July 2, 2010, meaning the OPA plans to honour the original 80.2 cents for those who meet that cutoff. This decision is a big gesture, because the plan under the original proposal was to only honour the 80.2 cents for those minority of projects that had already received a contract or conditional offer. That means the more than 10,000 applications that were going to be tossed out (with project proponents forced to reapply under the new rate) will now be honoured at the 80.2 cent rate so long as they applied before July 2.

There’s a small catch, however. Commercial aggregators will no longer be allowed to participate in the microFIT program, but will still be able to participate in the larger FIT (10 kilowatts and up) program. The government didn’t like the idea of aggregators merely leasing rooftops and then building and owning the systems, saying it defied the spirit of the program, which was to get households, farmers, communities, First Nations, etc… to participate directly on their own. I have to say, I *completely* agree with them there.

The OPA also announced it will be establishing a new advisory panel that will provide advice on program evolution, including the two-year FIT review process. The advisory panel will be made up of industry, academic and other stakeholders. I should point out that an attempt will be made to accommodate commercial aggregators of smaller projects, but it will be done outside of the microFIT program using a different set of rules to be established partly by the new advisory panel.

“The OPA has received almost 19,000 microFIT applications since the program was launched less than a year ago. More than 6,100 conditional offers have been sent to applicants and almost 800 microFIT projects are now feeding clean energy into Ontario’s grid,” according to the agency’s release today. “The OPA is working to respond quickly to microFIT applicants. Most ground-mounted applications that have been submitted will be processed by the end of September.”

Kudos to the government and OPA for putting meaning back into the word “consultation.” Showing a willingness to listen and change direction restores confidence in the process and the program, and the fact an advisory body has been set up to avoid future surprises can only help.

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