It’s about politics. It’s about votes. It may be about a lack of need for the power, or a true concern about lakebed impacts. But one thing for certain is that the Ontario government’s misguided decision to halt all offshore wind development until further study is not about unfounded concerns over the health impacts on people, as much as anti-wind folks want to spin it that way as part of a venom-filled effort to extend the moratorium to onshore facilities.
Energy Minister Brad Duguid made this clear to me in an interview this week. “To be clear, it’s really the environmental concerns that would be leading to the need to do more work on the science. It’s not so much the health, unless you want to relate it to the quality of drinking water.”
Duguid outlined some of the main concerns the government has: the impact on the lakebed, it’s potential impact on drinking water, and issues related to the freezing of freshwater lakes and the impact on wind-turbine platforms. “The projects were still going to have to go through the renewable energy application process. Earlier this year we began work on a standard, which is the 5 kilometre setback from the shore. We asked, at the same time, that the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources take a look at where these projects should and shouldn’t be located. The conclusion they reached is they just don’t have a level of comfort with the science.”
What gets me is that they only now realize they’re not comfortable with the science, three years after lifting the previous moratorium and more than a year after having a FIT rate established for offshore projects. I don’t buy this explanation. I can understand the need to establish no-build zones in the Great Lakes, a move they should have done long ago. I can also understand a desire to have these turbines located far from shore. What I don’t understand is why those projects that were far enough offshore and in good locations couldn’t proceed and go through the necessary environmental approvals? Under the five-kilometre rule, the Toronto Hydro project off the Scarborough Bluffs was dead anyway. Unfortunately, this moratorium kills other projects that are in more ideal locations, such as several kilometres offshore on rockbed where disruption to the lake bottom would be minimal. How, really, can these projects affect drinking water when you consider all of the crap we already dump — legally — into the lake, and considering all the shoreline development already taking place? These excuses are bogus.
As damaging as this moratorium is, this has absolutely nothing to do with the claimed health effects of wind turbines based in the lake or even noise issues, despite the deceptive rantings of anti-wind groups.
NOTE: It seems, upon further reflection, that this isn’t just a moratorium — this, in the words of one developer, is a “Valentine’s Day massacre” to the offshore wind market in Ontario. The government is wiping the slate clean: any developers who have registered a site through the site-release program, or achieved applicant of record status, which gives very specific rights, are being told they’re going to have to start from scratch if, and when, the government decides to move forward again on offshore wind.
According to the policy decision posted Feb. 11 on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registery, “the MNR will be cancelling all existing Crown land applications for offshore wind development that do not have a Feed-In-Tariff contract, including those with Applicant of Record status. MNR will not be accepting any new Crown land applications for offshore wind development. When there is greater scientific certainty, consideration of offshore wind development will resume.”
The government conveniently excluded this information from their press release, which they hoped would be buried amid all the news out of Egypt.
There have been hundreds of crown land applications, and some developers have spent many years — up to 15 years, in at least one case — to develop a business case and do the necessary studies and data collection required to raise capital for their projects. Many millions of dollars have been spent based on the idea that applications, and those given Applicant of Record status, would be honoured. To start from a clean slate makes all of that site-specific research worthless, and represents a major assuault to investor confidence in Ontario. Who, in their right mind, would want to invest in Ontario after hearing of this decision? The McGuinty government has lost its marbles on this one, and as I said before, this will have lasting repercussions that go far beyond the short-term election cycle.
It’s an embarrasing moment for a jurisdiction that, while heading generally in the right direction with respect to green energy policy, appears to be driving while intoxicated.