The Ontario government, to my surprise, has caved to public pressure from a small group of anti-wind folks and backtracked on its previously stated commitment to encourage the development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes. It must be election time. This news release just came out:
Ontario is not proceeding with proposed offshore wind projects while further scientific research is conducted. No Renewable Energy Approvals for offshore have been issued and no offshore projects will proceed at this time. Applications for offshore wind projects in the Feed-In-Tariff program will no longer be accepted and current applications will be suspended. Offshore wind in freshwater lakes is early in development and there are no projects operating in North America. The recently installed Lake Vanern pilot project in Sweden is one of the only operational freshwater offshore projects in the world and a pilot project has been proposed in Ohio. Ontario will monitor these projects and the resulting scientific knowledge. Ontario will work with our U.S. neighbours on research to ensure any future proposed projects protect the environment on both sides of the Great Lakes.
It was three years ago when McGuinty confidently lifted a moratorium on offshore wind projects and declared that such projects, after extensive study and consultation with authorities on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, could be done responsibly without impact to lake ecosystems. Then came the feed-in-tariff (FIT) program less than two years later, which broke new ground in North America by including a FIT rate for offshore wind — 19 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to 42 cents for large-scale solar projects.
The government has regularly trumpeted its commitment to offshore wind development, and Ontario was well positioned to lead North America in terms of attracting manufacturers and a supporting supply chain that could serve Ontario and the U.S. northeast. One project, to be developed by Windstream Energy, was actually offered a contract under the FIT program, while developer Trillium Power was quite advanced with its project development and preliminary studies and had worked hard to attract foreign manufacturers to Ontario. These companies and others must be furious, having invested millions of dollars already only to have the province do an about-face. I mean, is McGuinty admitting that the consultations and study done three years ago were bogus?
This sends a horrible message to the market. If the government can so easily backtrack on previous commitments, what’s next? What other projects will have their plugs pulled?
Offshore wind was the one truly new opportunity in green energy where Ontario had the opportunity to lead and capture the economic development that would come with it, as this Conference Board of Canada report recently pointed out. Companies such as Siemens and Vestas were seriously eyeing Ontario as a place to lay down their North American anchors. That opportunity is now gone. What’s odd is that it’s apparently okay to have a company like Talisman drill for natural gas in the middle of Lake Erie or to ship radioactive material from a nuclear plant through the Great Lakes, but we can’t erect wind turbines with proper setbacks from shore?
Meanwhile, the U.S. is picking up steam on offshore wind. Just as Ontario is backing away, Maryland is moving forward with legislation that would require its utilities to purchase offshore wind capacity. Virginia is getting its act together, as is New Jersey. The Obama administration has pledged to fast-track offshore wind projects in the mid-Atlantic. New York, Ohio, Michigan and others are all moving forward. Ontario, which had the lead, has decided to disqualify itself from the race and watch from the sidelines.
A truly shocking and disappointing development. There’s no reason why the government couldn’t have honoured its FIT commitments but put in place regulations that made sure only the best sited projects got built. At least this would have got the ball rolling, even if it was just one or two projects that qualified. Environmental concerns can be addressed without having to outright derail the train.