Tag Archives: ontario

Ontario gov launches $50,000 contest, challenges app developers to put smart meter data to good use

Now that nearly 5 million Ontario homes and small businesses have smart meters, the province has access to a tsunami of energy usage data. The question now is what’s the best use of it? As part of efforts to open up this data store and make it available to third-party developers — part of the “green button” initiative — the Ontario energy ministry issued today a challenge to app developers. Come up with a mobile app that makes the best use of this data and win part of $50,000 in cash that is available for prizes. Developers have until Jan. 7 to submit their app, and the winners will be announced in early 2014. “Awards include Gold, Silver and Bronze, Best Student App, Best App Created Outside of Ontario, and People’s Choice,” according to the ministry.

Will be interesting to see what emerges from this contest.

Changes to Ontario’s green energy strategy make a whole lot of sense…

sarniasolar1Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announced on May 30 that there would be a few major changes to the way the province procures renewable energy.

Here’s what the government is saying these days:

  • The province will develop a competitive procurement process for renewable projects over 500 kilowatts, which will no longer qualify for a feed-in-tariff.
  • These same projects will have to meet a higher community standard. Developers will need to work directly with municipalities to identify appropriate locations and site requirements.
  • Projects 10 to 500 kilowatts in size (a.k.a small FIT projects) will be given priority if a municipality is a development partner or leading the project.
  • The government will work with municipalities to determine a property tax rate increase for wind turbine towers.
  • Between now and 2018, a new block of 900 megawatts will be available for small FIT and microFIT programs. Annual procurement caps will be set at 150 megawatts for Small FIT and 50 megawatts for microFIT, a much more measured approach that will create more stability in the market.
  • The World Trade Organization has ruled that the domestic content mandate attached to Ontario’s FIT program was in violation of GATT rules. As a result, the government has decided to eliminate the local content requirement.

These are all good moves for a provincial green-energy strategy that has had its fair share of controversy and setbacks. First, I have to applaud the decision to treat small and large renewable energy projects differently. I have been arguing for more than two years now that the province needs to get back to a competitive procurement process for large wind and solar projects. The whole point of the FIT program, IMHO, was to make electricity production in Ontario more accessible to communities, homeowners, schools, farmers, etc… by creating a standard, long-term contract and process for selling green electricity into the provincial grid. Fact is, it’s expensive to participate in requests for proposals. Companies can spend millions as part of their bid only to walk away with nothing. Smaller developers don’t have the deep pockets to play that game, but big developers generally do. My only reservation about the new rules is that they set the cut-off point at 500 kilowatts, and there is no distinction between solar and wind projects. For solar projects, I would require any project over 1 megawatt to go through competitive procurement. For wind, I would require it for projects over 10 megawatts. Still, what’s contemplated in the new rules is an improvement.

The phasing out of domestic content rules is also good news, as they have served their purpose. Even with the WTO challenge, most people in the industry knew that it would take a while for the matter to get resolved. From my perspective, this gave plenty of time to developers in need of local content to lure some manufacturing (and associated jobs) into the province. True, some of those jobs might go away once the rules are phased out, but many now anchored here will decide to stay given that the market for product between now and 2018 will still be healthy (and the fact that the FIT will still exist for small and micro projects). Where this gets interesting is that developers of large projects can now source from outside of the province — including China. No longer can the domestic content rule be an excuse for higher costs. When bidding for projects, they’ll have to come in at the lowest price AND have to demonstrate a positive/collaborative relationship with the community in which they would like to build. This means, presumably, that most of the megawatts of renewable power that are built under the new rules will be much less expensive than what we’ve seen under the FIT program. The cost of solar modules has plunged. Wind turbines are getting more efficient. We’re generally getting more efficient at building these projects, driving down development costs. Ontario is now going to benefit from this trend in a more pronounced way than under the FIT program, where a two-year price review (and even the new one-year review) frankly couldn’t keep up with the pace of change.

Will we lose jobs by dropping the domestic content mandate? Probably, but there is more to “green jobs” than people standing around warehouses playing assistant to machines. This industry creates opportunities for lawyers, accountants, electricians, marketers, tradespeople, engineers, environmental consultants, truck drivers, etc…  and I’m convinced those jobs far outnumber the manufacturing jobs we’ve become so obsessed with in this province. And let’s face it, most of the “manufacturing” jobs we attracted to Ontario involved assembling components and integrating equipment that was made somewhere else. Bottom line: Employment in renewable energy is going to continue to grow in Ontario, even without domestic content rules and the domestic manufacturing jobs they helped create.

Meanwhile, the new emphasis on local participation is encouraging. Again, this goes back to the original spirit of the FIT program: to actively engage the population in the operation of our electricity system through direct participation. And as Germany and other countries have shown, the greater the participation (and associated benefits) the greater the acceptance of these new technologies. Impose something on people and their natural inclination is to resist. There will always be NIMBYs that can’t be reasoned with, but give members of a community more say and more to gain from such projects and you make champions out of opponents.

Before I sign off,  I will point out one more piece of good news in these proposed rule changes. Now that the largest projects will be selected through competitive procurement, this creates more flexibility in terms of how the Ontario Power Authority prices renewables. For example, it could set different rates for peak and off-peak wind and solar power. Not only does this more accurately reflect the cost of electricity in the wholesale market, but depending on the price spread it may create an incentive for developers to use energy storage as a way to maximize revenues from every kilowatt-hour produced. This motivation simply doesn’t exist under the current FIT program, which doesn’t discriminate between the time of day kilowatt-hours are produced. One can envision third-party energy storage providers and aggregators emerging in the marketplace to offer such services to developers, in addition to the many ancillary services that energy storage can bring to the grid.

Let’s keep in mind that the government recently put out a request for information (RFI) on the  “State of Energy Storage Technology in Ontario.” It is seeking to better understand the “potential of these technologies to provide value to Ontario’s electricity system” and the “barriers to realizing this potential.” That’s a good sign, and hints at the thinking going on in the background. Here’s hoping that this new thinking is reflected in the updated Long-Term Energy Plan, which is currently under review.

With renewable energy development in Ontario put a more sustainable path, the government should now re-commit itself to energy conservation, which has been all but ignored in recent years despite talk of creating a “culture of conservation” in this province.

(NOTE: I’m still hopeful that the moratorium on offshore wind will be lifted and the government will direct the Ontario Power Authority to accept bids for a demonstration/study project of no less than 10 megawatts. This is a step we must take to know for sure, through direct study in the field, the degree to which we would should develop offshore wind and what the rules should be.)

Plans for green jet fuel plant in Ontario north flame out

BurningFuelsComparisonNearly two years ago, an LA-based company called Rentech Inc. announced plans to build a biofuels plant four hours north of Sault St. Marie, Ontario. It would use forest waste and “unmerchantable” tree species for making renewable jet fuel and naphtha, a chemical feedstock used to make all sorts of products. That plant was supposed to be operational in 2015. It was supposed to employ up to 1,000 people during peak construction, and keep 83 people directly employed full time in a region of the province that could really use those jobs.

Ain’t gonna happen, it seems.

The company put out a press release last night announcing that it is ceasing operations, reducing staff, and eliminating all R&D related to new technology development. And yes folks, I’m told that would includes its Ontario “Olympiad” project, which was to use a Fischer-Tropsch process to turn biomass into 85 million litres of green fuel annually. It means the deal Rentech signed with the Ontario government that gave it access to up to 1.1 million cubic metres of Crown timber is effectively dead wood. The question is whether those access rights will be transferred to one of the competing projects from local companies that bid against Rentech and lost.

It’s funny (or not so funny) how many grand announcements from government never actually come to fruition. This, in my view, could have been a good project. It’s a shame for the people living in that region. They could have used the economic boost.

From the horse’s mouth: the Ontario PC plan to abandon green and go nuclear

mcnaughtonNot that this comes as a surprise, but in case you thought the PCs plan to be gentle on the green energy file if elected, think again. Below are comments made on Dec. 19 by Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, representing Lambton-Kent-Middlesex. McNaughton was speaking at a municipal council meeting, during which he outlined how his party, if elected this year, plans to obliterate the province’s feed-in-tariff program, including reneging on thousands of projects in the queue. It seems the PCs don’t just want to get rid of the FIT program, but are hostile to wind and solar power altogether and plan to alter course dramatically, starting with a moratorium on all green energy development. This would include a big commitment to build new nuclear reactors at a time when there is nothing but controversy around the high cost and long-term dangers of the nuclear option. In other words, the PCs would bring Ontario’s grid back to the dark ages with a false promise that doing so would cause electricity prices to fall, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As usual, McNaughton spews mistruths about the high cost of wind and fails to mention the much higher cost of going nuclear.
But you can read for yourself where the PCs stand by reading excerpts of his comments below:


On PC plans to get out of FIT contracts…

…we realize that when we make the commitment, we’re not going to build them, if they’re not built. So scrap the 50,000 projects that are in the queue.  We realize that there is going to be a cost, our lawyers have told us that there are opt-out clauses and we sure as hell are going to pay those out because it’s going to be cheaper to pay them out than to honour contracts for 20 years. So we’ve been clear that we will not going ahead with however many projects are left, if we’re fortunate enough to form the next government after the next election. But clearly there will be a cost associated with that, but it will be cheaper to buy them out than to honour them for 20 years.

Secondly, I guess we’re not going to know the entire extent of all of these contracts signed until if we form government, until we actually get in and take office. That’s why we’ve been clear that in the 24 hours after the election, we’re going to call for a moratorium. But we are going to call for a moratorium almost immediately so we can figure where the hell things are at and how deep a hole energy has gotten us into.

We have been extremely clear that we are are going to end the wind & solar projects across this province. We’re going in a completely new direction. We’re not going to continue abiding by the special interests that are at Queens Park every single day of this government. We’re taking Ontario down a completely new path and we’re not going to continue what’s been going on the last 10 years. We’ve been crystal clear about it. We’re going to really explore Hydro. We’re going to expand nuclear … which isn’t that popular in a lot of corners. But we are going in a different direction including part of our energy supply is going to be buying energy from other jurisdictions.

Enough is enough: Wind industry needs to go on offensive in 2013

windprotestersWhen Health Canada announced in July that it would study the relationship between wind turbine noise and health effects, the government said it was responding to questions from residents who live near wind farms.

“As always, our government is putting the health and safety of Canadians first,” read a Health Canada statement, which outlined the research approach it would take, while stating that the results would be published in 2014.

John Andrews, president of IPC Energy, a wind energy developer based in Mississauga, was surprised by the move.

The modern wind turbine has been in commercial use since the 1970s. Surely others, especially the Europeans, had more experience than a late-comer like Canada. If turbines were bad for us, wouldn’t the red flags have emerged in Germany and Denmark? Or are Danes and Germans genetically different from Canadians?

By the end of 2012, there was expected to be 280 gigawatts of wind capacity installed worldwide — equaling roughly 140,000 average-sized wind turbines. Even so, a comprehensive study released in early 2012 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health concluded “there is insufficient evidence that the noise from wind turbines is directly causing health problems or disease.”

But that’s not what really bothered Andrews. After all, the more studies the merrier to prove that wind turbines are, in fact, as benign as your electric toothbrush, cell phone or SUV. What raised his ire was the fact that the federal government has yet to do a comprehensive study on the oil sands and its effects on human health.

In a letter to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkag, Andrews asked a simple question: Why the double standard?

Aglukkaq’s response, in a letter dated Aug. 16, stated: “The provinces and territories have the designated authority for determining and mitigating potential health impacts within their jurisdictions for any resource development.

“Health Canada has not undertaken any studies as to the impacts to health from the oil sands developments, as these potential impacts fall within the jurisdiction of the province or territory in which the project receives approval.”

But wind is a natural resource, too. And electricity generation is provincial jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the same reasoning apply to the potential health impacts of wind turbines? Aglukkaq didn’t address this. Indeed, she left out any mention of “wind” in her response to Andrews.

It’s only fair to mention that wind energy isn’t without its problems. The turbines do make noise, becoming an annoyance to some if not properly located. There’s no question that some wind developers need to be more responsible.

Wind turbines do kill birds, but at about the same rate as nuclear power and far less than coal plants, buildings, communications towers and cats.

The wind farm construction process does temporarily kick up dirt on roads, like any infrastructure project.

The turbines don’t generate electricity on demand, but this is manageable with new wind forecasting technologies and when used in combination with demand-response, other forms of generation and smart grid tools, such as energy storage.

For some, they do spoil the view.

But this is a form of electricity generation that emits zero pollution and requires zero fuel. Shale gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing methods is contaminating drinking water in the U.S. northeast. Pollution from fossil-fuel power plants and vehicle tailpipes continue to impose a heavy burden on our healthcare system. Oil pipelines are springing leaks. Offshore oil rigs are running aground in sensitive Arctic waters. The Arctic is melting far faster than our earlier worst predictions. Coral reefs are dying off at an alarming rate. Biodiversity is rapidly dwindling.

There’s plenty to be concerned about in the world — both near and far — and for those of us inclined to speak out, there’s plenty to protest. Given the above, which is a mere sample of humanity’s reckless footprint, it’s perplexing that that a certain segment of the population chooses to treat the wind industry as its punching bag.

Busloads of anti-wind protesters routinely hijack municipal information sessions and council meetings, shouting down wind-industry officials and slinging profanities. The Power Workers’ Union continues to run advertisements that criticize wind and sugar-coat nuclear and coal power.

In July, one anti-wind protester allegedly pulled a shotgun on a London wind-farm worker who was sitting in his vehicle. It hardly made the news. Can you imagine if that happened to an oil sands or nuclear worker?

My own writing about wind issues has also been attacked, having twice been the subject of a complaint to the Ontario Press Council, which tossed out the matter both times.

The Environmental Review Tribunal has been inundated with appeals from wind-farm opponents, who claim turbines harm human health and that a moratorium should be placed on their development. The appeals typically go nowhere because of lack of evidence.

One opponent has gone so far as to argue that wind farms should be disallowed not because it will harm health, but because certain individuals believe wind turbines will make them sick.

By that standard, we should put a moratorium on . . . well, everything.

It’s because of all this that I believe the wind industry, which employs thousands of people in Canada and is an important and growing contributor to our economy, will and should start hitting back in 2013.

Enough is enough.

NOTE: And for those looking to debunk the claims of those against offshore wind, you may want to check out this excellent blog post by Mark Lynas.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.