Hamilton consortium puts pressure on Ontario government to lift moratorium on offshore wind in the Great Lakes

For a year now there has been a moratorium on the development of offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes. The Ontario government issued the ban because it said more study was needed to make sure the projects can be developed safety and responsibly, even though such studies were supposedly already done when the previous moratorium was lifted in January 2008. It’s more than likely that the latest ban was politically motivated, which is why a consortium of companies stretching from Kingston to Niagara Region has high hopes of changing the government’s mind.

The consortium, calling itself the Lake Ontario Offshore Network, aims to make Ontario the North American capital of offshore wind development. The group includes Windstream Energy Inc., the only company that holds a feed-in-tariff contract with the Ontario Power Authority to sell power from offshore wind turbines into the province’s electrical grid. It doesn’t matter that Windstream, because of the moratorium, can’t currently develop its project. It hopes that by bringing together an industrial consortium it can dangle thousands of jobs in front of the government and possibly convince the powers that be to reconsider its offshore ban.

The cast that has been assembled for this PR play is impressive. The consortium includes turbine suppliers Siemens Wind Power and Vestas Wind Systems, steel fabricator Walters Inc., steel supplier Essar Steel Algoma Inc. and a number of small and medium-sized companies — Anchor Concrete Products Ltd., Ortech Power, Samuel & Son Limited, Akzo Nobel Coating Ltd. and Bermingham Foundation Solutions, to name a few. In total, 18 companies/organizations large and small have signed on, representing a comprehensive supply chain and about 1,800 jobs that could exist over a five-year period if Windstream’s project ever got the go-ahead.

And what is this project? Windstream, which is based in Burlington, Ontario, is planning to build a 100-turbine, 300-megawatt offshore wind project about five kilometres west of Wolfe Island, which is an island just offshore the city of Kingston, itself about 250 kilometres east of Toronto. My own personal feeling is that it’s not the greatest site for development, if only because it’s not far from the onshore wind farm that’s currently located on Wolfe Island and has been a lightning rod for controversy from the beginning (partly because of the density of wind turbine development there). Windstream is proposing that the government keep its moratorium but allow an exemption for its $1.5 billion Wolfe Island shoals project, on the grounds that it would be a pilot project used as part of studies that would determine if further offshore development is the right step forward.

You’ll recall from an earlier column of mine that the “pilot project” approach is one that I support and proposed last July. Specifically, I wrote, “Maybe we would have been better off to focus initially on a public-private pilot project, one located several kilometres offshore in a carefully selected location; one that could be closely studied and be a launch pad for future economic growth.” I’m happy that Windstream has embraced this approach, and it will be interesting to see how the government responds to this invitation.

But here’s the thing: I’m not convinced this is the “carefully selected location” that would be ideal for a pilot project. I’m also not convinced that a 300-megawatt project could rightly be called a “pilot”. I understand the need to go big. There are simply better economies of scale. But if a pilot was truly what Windstream envisions, it should break up the project into smaller phases, with the initial pilot phase being no larger than 20 or so megawatts (similar in size to the world’s first lake-based wind farm in Lake Vanern, Sweden) with plans to develop larger phases once the pilot has been properly studied and ultimately convinces the Ministry of Environment that offshore wind makes sense for Ontario.

I would also argue that there are much better sites to consider for a pilot, including those once held by Trillium Wind Power before the government wiped the slate clear and unjustly forced all developers without a FIT contract to start from scratch. Trillium, by the way, had also started developing a supply chain consortium before the rug was pulled from under it, resulting in a $2.25 billion lawsuit filed against the Ontario government. One wonders how any company could trust dealing with Queen’s Park these days.

But Windstream is the one that finds itself in the fortunate position of being the only developer with a FIT contract. Whether the piece of paper it holds gives it the edge when it comes to pilot-scale projects, that’s unclear. After all, pilots are given special consideration. Presumably, FIT or not, picking the location of a pilot project should be based on the site, not the developer.

The saga continues…

5 thoughts on “Hamilton consortium puts pressure on Ontario government to lift moratorium on offshore wind in the Great Lakes”

  1. Hi Tyler,

    I know this is off article but for some reason you did not mention it in your blog.

    Just out is the list of the 100 most sustainable companies in the World and Canada has six companies on this list.

    “The Global 100 list, released each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, ranks major corporations on a wide variety of factors including their relative energy and water consumption, carbon emissions, board diversity, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay, and the amount of waste they generate.”

    “The Canadian firms in the top 100 were Suncor Energy Inc. (48), Enbridge Inc. (71), Encana Corp. (76), Nexen Inc. (89), Sun Life Financial Inc. (91) and Royal Bank of Canada (95). ”

    WOW. The top four Canadian companies are in the Oil Sands! How can this be? You mean these companies really care about the environment and sustainability? Yep. Looks like these Oil Sands and Oil & Gas companies are doing a great job.


  2. Hi Rob,

    I’m actually involved with this list, as I am the editor-in-chief of Corporate Knights magazine, which creates the Global 100. The ranking is product agnostic — it doesn’t pass judgement on the product, be it oil sands syncrude, cigarettes, military weapons, etc…. The ranking was designed to only measure how a company operates relative to its industry peers, determined via publicly disclosed environmental, social and governance data. So Suncor, Enbridge, Encana and Nexen are doing well relative to their peers on a global basis. It’s not a statement about the oil sands as much as a statement about which companies in the oil sands are behaving most responsibly. It’s also not to say that these companies shouldn’t be doing a much better job.

  3. Tyler,

    With all do respect (this is admittedly a phrase used just before uttering something that might be considered to be disrespectful), I can’t help but think that if you weren’t involved in the process, you’d be frothing at the mouth.

  4. If I didn’t understand and accept the need for objective measurement and peer-to-peer comparison, I would never have joined the effort. You may find our exchanges “laughable,” as I believe you put it recently, but you really haven’t a clue about where I stand on things, apparently.

  5. In spite of what I might have said recently, I don’t see our exchanges as laughable. I find your use of the term “clueless”, however accurate you feel it is, to border on an ad hominem argument — something I wouldn’t expect from you but that is all too easy for all of us to do when exchanging online and not face to face. As I’ve indicated previously, you’d be surprised about my views on some things, so neither of us is up to speed on each other’s views/stands on things. So, I will say, with sincerity, good for being part of the effort and therefore in a much better position toreport on what’s happening and influence things.

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