Never a dull week in Ontario energy politics
This week brought more evidence that electricity issues will dominate the upcoming provincial election. The Ontario NDP vowed yesterday that, if elected, it will kill plans to build a new nuclear plant at Darlington and potentially pull the plug — or in its words, “hit the pause button” — on plans to refurbish the province’s existing fleet of reactors. Party leader Andrea Horwath said money earmarked for new nuclear would instead go toward funding household retrofits that would, by lowering energy use, partially eliminate the need for the new power.
Now, there’s no doubt the province could do A LOT more to promote conservation, and the Liberals deserve a wooden spoon to the back of the head for not pushing and supporting it more and, apparently, having no significant plans to do so. I also think we can avoid the need for new nuclear in this province. Regarding the existing fleet, we have to be very careful. Nuclear currently supplies about half of the electricity in this province. If we’re going to reduce our dependence on it, it will be a weaning process that will depend on the health of other generation assets and their ability to supply the grid reliably. There may be some wiggle room, but at a time when we’re phasing out coal we’re going to need most of those nuclear assets whether we like them or not. Refurbishments will be necessary, but should certainly be scrutinized — not assumed — keeping in mind we can’t afford to put unnecessary strain on the system. We need to stay focused on getting rid of coal, and doing it right.
In other news, the Liberals have been making some clever and necessary moves to defend its green energy and green economy plan, and by association the jobs and industry it has created, should they lose an election to the PC Party in October. On Tuesday, it was revealed that Energy Minister Brad Duguid had issued a ministerial directive that alters the rules of the feed-in-tariff program, eliminating the Ontario Power Authority’s right to cancel a FIT contract if a developer does not yet have a Notice to Proceed to construction.
To obtain a Notice to Proceed, developers must have all permits and approvals, including all project impact assessments, a renewable energy approval from the Ministry of Environment, a plan that verifies that all domestic content requirements have been met, and a financing plan that demonstrates the developer has the money in place to build the project as envisioned. The PCs, if they were to form the government, have indicated they would exercise their rights under Sections 2.4 (a), (e) and (f) of FIT contracts to terminate contracts in cases where developers had not yet obtained a Notice to Proceed. Now, there would be a penalty to this — the government would have to cover any pre-construction development costs. But Hudak and crew have said they’re willing to take that hit.
This would create a huge problem for the FIT program, because more than 1,800 FIT contracts would be at risk of being cancelled and at no fault to the developers. Many, including Samsung, have a contract in hand but are waiting for grid capacity or to receive their renewable energy approval from the environment ministry. To protect this group, the Liberals tweaked the rules. Now, those developer can request a waiver that takes away the power authority’s right to terminate a project, as long as that developer can show a domestic content plan supported by a manufacturing equipment agreement. Developers must still submit a financing plan and receive all permits and approvals before they can begin construction, but the absence of these are no longer an opening for contract termination.
The end result is that it salvages whatever confidence is left in the industry since Hudak announced his intention to scrap the FIT program. Renewable energy developers and manufacturers in the province are still worried, but less so now. The Liberals also announced improvements to the renewable energy approvals (REA) process that will see applications dealt with more quickly, so that should bring some more certainty as well.
Samsung is among those less worried. In fact, it was announced yesterday that the government has given Samsung a one-year extension to fulfill certain contractual obligations. But Samsung had to give a little to get a little. In exchange for the extension, Samsung agreed to accept a lower economic adder, which is the amount it expects to received on top of normal feed-in-tariff rates for bringing jobs and manufacturing to the province. Specifically, Samsung’s adder over the 20-year life of its contract has been reduced to $110 million from $437 million. This is good for ratepayers, relatively speaking, but in my opinion the FIT rates alone should be enough to make Samsung happy — so the Korean giant is walking away with this new contractual arrangement quite satisfied. But a deal is a deal, right?
The good news in all of this is that the Liberals are starting to put up a fight, and that will increase confidence in the sector and send a message to the public that green energy in Ontario is something worth fighting for. It has been a long time coming, though decisions like killing offshore wind projects have already hurt confidence in the sector. The Liberals will have a very difficult time regaining what it lost.