I’ve heard from a few different sources now that Ontario may be considering imposing a moratorium on solar PV contracts issued under the feed-in-tariff program, and while any future backtracking by this Liberal government wouldn’t surprise me, I don’t think there’s any substance to these rumours. I may be wrong, but this appears to be a clear case of echo-chamber amplification. Sure, the Libs made an incredibly stupid decision by imposing a moratorium on offshore wind development. I say stupid for a number of reasons. One, it used the “lack of science” as an excuse to pull back, even though the previous moratorium on development was lifted precisely because the Ministry of Natural Resources said it was satisfied with the studies — the science — that had been done. Suddenly that science wasn’t good enough? Lame.
Two, it would have been more justifiable to impose another moratorium if the government had let developers keep the sites they had fairly secured. Instead, the government took the sites away and told developers that when the moratorium was lifted they’d have to start from scratch. Not a way to make friends of industry or to make investors feel comfortable in Ontario. It simply made zero sense to go that far, unless of course it was politically motivated — a likely explanation that is no comfort to the developers who put millions of dollars on the line and lost it all.
So, clearly the panicky Liberals are prone to making stupid decisions when under pressure by an opposition party that knows how to press its hot buttons. Will this be repeated for solar? If it was, it would IMHO completely sink the Liberal party heading into this upcoming fall election — particularly if it targeted small solar PV projects covered under the microFIT program. For larger projects, there is technically a moratorium in place. It’s called transmission restrictions, and it means only so many projects can be built in this province until transmission capacity is expanded to accommodate more. There have already been more project contract offers than the transmission system can accommodate, so really the throttle is the pace of transmission updates and the government, through Hydro One, controls that throttle. Better to make this fact clear to voters than to declare a moratorium that does nothing else but prove the Liberal party is on the run from a progressive energy plan it should be proudly promoting, with chest out and head held high.
For the record, I asked the Ontario Power Authority about these solar PV moratorium rumours and the agency flatly denied that a moratorium was coming. “OPA is not planning a moratorium for the FIT/mFIT program,” said spokeswoman Kristin Jenkins in an e-mail. “Right now, we are going through a process to issue contracts for the new Bruce to Milton transmission line which Hydro One recently received approval for. The developers that are eligible are the ones in the Bruce and West of London transmission areas on the FIT priority ranking list. These developers did not receive contracts in the past because there was not transmission capacity.”
I asked as well about the planned two-year review of FIT pricing. Jenkins said the process will start in 2011, but she could offer no specifics on when. “We will carry out the required two-year program review in 2011, but a date has not yet been set to start that,” she said. The sooner the better. (note: I deleted a paragraph from the original version of this post which messed up the dates of the upcoming review, leading me to an unnecessary rant. My apologies for the mistake for those who read an early version).