Ontario needs to reconsider offshore wind in the Great Lakes, though it may need a different approach

My Clean Break column this week takes a look at Ontario’s decision back in February to put a moratorium — once again — on the development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes, and argues the province should reconsider development of this resource even if this time around it takes a more measured approached.

My own beef with the February moratorium is that the government cited environmental concerns that were supposedly addressed in a previous round of studies done prior to the lifting of the last ban in January 2008. At that time, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that environmental studies had been done and, in his mind, “you can do it in a way that does not compromise ecosystems.” At that point, he fired a starting gun for industry and, to stimulate interest even further, the government included offshore wind in its feed-in-tariff program. Three years later — i.e. this past February — the plug was pulled once again. Turns out Ontario was jerking the industry’s chain.

Now, I can understand the desire to pull back a bit. One could easily argue that the government moved too fast by including offshore wind in the feed-in-tariff program. But why completely halt all development, indefinitely, especially when jurisdictions such as Ohio are pushing ahead? Why go so far as to tell all developers that if and when offshore wind is put back into play, they have to start from scratch (effectively rendering all past site-specific research and studies useless)? It made no sense.

Anyway, as you’ll read in the column, I think the government needs to reconsider its decision. Perhaps a way back into it is to start by focusing on a pilot project, maybe 50 to 100 MW in size, developed far enough offshore that it wouldn’t get the NIMBYs all worked up. This could be the basis of real-world study, during which new rules can be set making a distinction between near-shore and truly offshore resources, and bringing clarity to a new market craving guidance.

To simply sit back and let U.S. jurisdictions take the lead — and future manufacturing and job creation — isn’t fitting of a province with the most to gain from offshore wind development in the Great Lakes, and the most to offer.