Tag Archives: solar

Nanticoke, once North America’s largest coal plant, to host 40MW solar farm

Okay, it’s ridiculous to compare a 40-megawatt solar PV park to a coal-fired power plant that could crank out 4,000 megawatts at peak capacity, but the fact Ontario Power Generation (OPG) got a contract today to build such a solar project at the old Nanticoke Generating Station is, at the very least, symbolically significant.

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator announced the results Thursday of its Large Renewable Procurement (LRP), which, for good reason, replaces the previous feed-in-tariff (FIT) program. The FIT program just couldn’t keep up with the pace of technological change and learning in the industry, and since the solar and wind industry in Ontario is now well established, it was time to abandon the rich premiums that came with the FIT and make the big boys of renewable energy compete for Ontario’s business.

In total, 455 megawatt of wind, solar and hydro was contracted out as part of the LRP:

  • Five wind contracts totalling 299.5 MW, with a weighted average price of 8.59 cents per kWh;
  • seven solar contracts totalling 139.885 MW, with a weighted average price of 15.67 cents; and
  • four hydroelectric contracts totalling 15.5 MW, with a weighted average price of 17.59 cents.

See list of projects here.

The lowest price Ontario got for wind was 6.45 cents, which is half of what it initially paid under its feed-in-tariff program. As Ontario’s Clean Air Alliance pointed out, that’s lower than what a re-built Darlington Nuclear Station is expected to cost, assuming it doesn’t go over budget (and history says it likely will). Now, nuclear is baseload, wind isn’t. But keep in mind that the purchased wind power comes risk-free to Ontario ratepayers. Can’t say that for nuclear deals in the province, no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig.

With solar, the lowest price locked in was 14.15 cents, which is remarkably close to what Ontario was paying for large-scale wind under its FIT program. It’s also significantly lower than rates for large-scale solar under the FIT program, which back in 2013 started at 34 cents and climbed from there.

These power purchase agreements (PPAs) show just how much solar costs have fallen — and will continue to fall. Now, you may be tempted to point to super-low cost solar contracts announced in places like California, Texas and New Mexico. Toronto-based Skypower has even bid 8 cents (U.S.) for projects in India. But keep in mind the solar regime isn’t as favourable in Ontario, the dollar is lower, and projects were tied to some social goals. For example, 13 of 16 projects include participation from one or more Aboriginal communities, including five projects with more than 50 per cent Aboriginal participation. I wonder, however, if the province could have secured even lower bids if it agreed to backstop loans on winning projects — perhaps from a green bond issue?

Still, the price is heading in the right direction. As the Canadian Solar Industries Association said,

“It is also the first time that a utility scale solar project has been contracted at a price that is lower than the retail rate of electricity in Ontario.”

That’s a milestone we should all remember.

But back to the OPG contract. Its significance wasn’t lost on Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada.

“It’s both a powerful symbol and great progress to see a contract offered for a solar farm that will be built on the land once occupied by the Nanticoke coal-fired power plant, once Canada’s top greenhouse gas polluter.”

I wrote about OPG’s planned bid for solar projects last May in Corporate Knights. At the time, OPG was hoping to win up to 120 megawatts worth of projects, which would be spread across its shut down Nanticoke and Lambton generation sites, as well as its still-operating Lennox station near Kingston.

Here’s what I said:

OPG, a publicly owned crown corporation, has historically been held back from bidding on renewable energy projects, given that its sheer size and influence were seen as unfair advantages in a competitive, open market procurement process. The company supplies roughly half of the province’s power, mostly through nuclear and large hydroelectric facilities.

In June 2013, however, the Ontario government restructured its feed-in-tariff program such that only smaller renewable-energy projects could participate. Larger project proposals, those generally more than 500 kilowatts in size, would need to compete through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process.

And in a controversial twist, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli directed the Ontario Power Authority to allow OPG to participate in all renewable energy procurement rounds.

I think it’s smart to let OPG enter this game. Sure, it’s a large publicly owned incumbent, but the solar market has matured and can hold its own. OPG also has unique experience (and recent success) partnering with aboriginal communities.

One potential hitch is that SunEdison is OPG’s development partner. The company is going through some tough times right now (the existential kind), and it’s unclear whether that will have an impact on OPG’s plans.

Solar is booming in Ontario, but you’d never know it from the data

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.43.29 PMOntario’s Independent Electricity System Operator released its annual “Electricity Data” report on Tuesday, and it breaks down the supply mix in 2015, 2014 and 2013. On the surface there hasn’t been a big shift over the past three years. We see that nuclear and hydro output has been fairly consistent. Natural gas generation was up slightly in 2015 compared to 2014, but was still lower than 2013 levels. Coal has been completely phased out, but at only 2 per cent of the mix in 2013 it wasn’t a dramatic change.

Wind as a share of the electricity mix has doubled to 6 per cent since 2013. Electricity from biofuels more than doubled, but still represents less than 1 per cent of the mix.

Then there’s solar. Looking at 2013 data, you might be confused to see Ontario didn’t have any solar on the grid. A teeny weeny bit appeared in 2014 and that increased 14-fold in 2015, but still represented a measly .25 terawatt-hours of electricity in a system that generates 154 terawatt-hours a year. In other words, a rounding error.

It’s a misleading figure, and it makes solar look like an insignificant contributor to Ontario’s electricity system, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

So what’s the deal? The above figures are for transmission-connected generation, meaning only the biggest solar projects connected directly to the transmission system are recognized. Those projects total 140 megawatts on a grid with 27,000 megawatts of capacity.

But look under the hood and you see something quite different. When accounting for solar that is connected to the local distribution system, the figure is an impressive 1,766 megawatts.

“So over 90 per cent of solar in Ontario isn’t being included in their annual figures,” points out Keith Stewart from Greenpeace Canada. “If we did include it all, solar would be about 2 per cent of total generation. It’s a clear example of how conventional power-sector thinking is blinded to the role of renewables and the evolution towards a more decentralized grid.”

In other words, this so-called “embedded” solar generation is making a big difference, especially during times of summer peak demand when the sun is shining strong and air conditioning loads put stress on the grid.

 

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.)

My quick review of Ontario’s much anticipated FIT Review

Snipped this map from the Ontario Power Authority’s two-year FIT program review. Here are some key takeaways from the review:

  • Solar prices are coming down, and in some cases way down. Small rooftop and ground-mount installs (under 10 kw) will see the FIT rates fall roughly 31 per cent . Large ground-mount systems of 500 kilowatts or higher will see rates fall by 21 per cent.
  • Wind of all sizes will see rates drop by about 15 per cent.
  • Other renewables, such as hydro, biomass and biogas, will remain the same.
  • Going forward, FIT prices will be set when contract is offered, not at time of application.
  • It’s being recommended that the government review supply and demand at end of 2013 and consider rising its green energy targets.
  • Up to 50 megawatts of contract capacity is being reserved for hydroelectric.
  • FIT rate reviews and adjustments will now take place annually.
  • Regulatory approvals are being streamlined in some areas.
  • Projects with a minimum of 15 per cent equity participation from aboriginal groups or communities will get extra points that give them priority in the queue. More points go to projects that have municipal or aboriginal council support.
  • 10 per cent of remaining FIT contract capacity will get set aside for projects that have a minimum of 50 per cent community or aboriginal ownership.
  • It looks like programs that offer supportive funding for community and aboriginal projects, such as the Community Power Fund, will get a boost based on recommendations from fund manager and program administrator.

A lot of coverage of this is making it seem like the government is reacting to rural protest against wind and solar farms, and unfounded public concerns about higher energy costs due to green energy. This is partly true, such as with the move to give communities more say, to encourage greater community participation, and to set aside capacity for projects with community ownership. These are all good moves. But the reduction in solar and wind prices, that was all to be expected. This is how FIT programs work — prices are supposed to come down over time. Even for solar, many in the industry seemed prepared to accept a reduction of around 25 per cent to reflect lower technology costs. The 15 per cent reduction for wind is also fair, in my view. My own opinion, however, is that large-scale solar should have seen greater reductions, and small rooftop rates should have seen lower reductions. MicroFIT solar installations, taken together, are still so small that they barely register in the overall price mix. Large solar projects benefit from economies of scale, do have a much greater impact on electricity prices, and should have taken a slightly larger rate haircut.  There’s also the fact that small rooftop projects aren’t controversial and make it possible for more citizens to participate in Ontario’s energy future.

What I didn’t see in this review was a much-needed call to accelerate transmission build-out and upgrade distribution systems with an eye to modernizing our electricity system — i.e. building a smart grid that makes the system more efficient and can accommodate more renewables. This entire area, in my view, has been neglected. There was also no talk of creating FITs for geothermal heating/cooling and solar thermal, and no talk of moving larger projects — particularly large wind projects, of say 20 megawatts or more — to the RFP model we used to use. Also, no talk of trying to work energy storage into the mix. At the moment, the FIT program discourages experimentation with solar because wind and solar producers aren’t penalized for producing energy during off-peak times when we don’t need it. The failure to come up with a FIT rate that differentiates between peak and off-peak times won’t lead to the kind of innovation we need.

One small note: It was good to see that domestic content rules are being created for concentrated solar thermal technology. The absence of these rules has made it difficult for Toronto-based Morgan Solar to participate in the FIT program.

Hudak’s energy strategy: throw baby out with bath water

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has vowed to kill the province’s feed-in-tariff program on the grounds that, in his view, it is leading to unacceptably high electricity costs for consumers. But when all is considered the problem, as he describes it, isn’t really with the FIT at all: it’s about FIT rates for solar PV. Take solar out of the equation and the FIT rates are quite reasonable, at least when compared to nuclear power, which is Hudak’s own half-baked solution to Ontario’s future electricity needs.

Beyond the propoganda of the nuclear industry, I haven’t seen a single credible study that calculates the cost of (new) nuclear to ratepayers below 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. Indeed, there are many reports that suggest nuke power is above 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, particularly when you choose to not hide the hidden costs and subsidies. This makes wind power, landfill gas systems, waterpower and even some large biogas systems competitive with nuclear on a kilowatt-hour basis. And, of course, under the FIT we’re not held hostage to delays or cost overruns like we have been in the past with nuclear. You pay for what you get under the FIT. No risk, no large single points of failure, no risk of meltdown, no worries about handling future radioactive waste, and very high price transparency.

Now, Hudak would have Ontario voters believe that the rate we pay today is what we should expect to pay for future generation. I don’t believe this is a naive belief on Hudak’s part; I believe it’s to intentionally mislead. Fact is, there isn’t a single form of clean (or dirty) generation that can be built new today that isn’t more expensive than the 6 or 7 cents per kilowatt-hour that Hudak (and most media, for that matter) recklessly bandies about. Now, could we get wind generation cheaper through a competitive process? Yeah, we could maybe carve a couple of cents off the FIT rate. But the FIT was intentionally designed to lower barriers to market access — to open up the market beyond the big, deep-pocketed corporate giants who can afford the upfront millions required to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) and, after participating in such a process, can afford to walk away empty handed. The province created the FIT to encourage community participation, and to stimulate the kind of growth that would attract manufacturing and jobs — and it has, despite a few spineless moments and missteps from the Liberal government.

 Now, on to solar. Hudak and his legion of backers, including National Post columnist Parker Gallant (who has somehow managed to turn his column into an official soap box for the Ontario PCs — hell, he even hands over fresh quotes for Hudak’s press releases now), always point to solar prices when talking about the FIT. After all, it’s easier to anger voters by saying generally that we’re paying 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour under the FIT and that this is 10 times more than the wholesale market rate for electricity. Wow — 10 times more! Crazy. But the comparison shouldn’t be to the wholesale market rate, and the rate itself is far from representative of the FIT program pricing. That scary 80.2 cents, which will soon be lowered, is for less than 1 per cent of FIT contracts when measured on a megawatt-hour contribution basis. Also, that money doesn’t go to big corporate conglomerates intent on vacuuming money out of Ontario. It goes to farmers and homeowners who are taking risks to become participants in the electricity system. The thousands of people taking part are literally changing the energy landscape in Ontario and they’re creating local jobs. You can see it just driving around this province. Put into perspective, the premium being paid to them is more than worth what the province is getting back. Hudak, however, would prefer to demonize them to score votes.

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — big solar. Big, multimegawatt solar projects are getting 44.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. But unlike the small solar rooftop systems, these larger systems will collectively have an impact on electricty rates over the coming years. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that it is because of these large systems that a lot of manufacturing has shifted to Ontario. Still, it’s a lot of solar and a lot to pay, and this is in my view the Achilles heal of Ontario’s FIT program. If there are going to be changes to the program, the most dramatic changes have to come here, but it has to be done in a way that balances the need to nurture an emerging industry and the interests of ratepayers. The answer, in my view, is to embrace a competitive bidding process for these large-scale projects and set caps (targets?) on the amount of big solar we want in Ontario by 2015, 2020 and 2025.

But Hudak isn’t thinking or talking that way. He wants to throw the baby out with the bath water, and in doing so kill investor confidence in the Ontario market, kill green jobs and build new nuclear plants that we’ll have to start paying for 10 years before the first kilowatt-hour is generated. His approach is reckless at a time when Ontario needs surgical, not blunt force, solutions. He’s being destructive at a time when Ontarians want our politicians to be constructive.

On a final note, let’s keep in mind that we don’t have to choose nuclear over renewables or vice versa. While building new nuclear plants may be an unwise decision economically, there is plenty of job creation to come from reburishing or extending the life of Ontario’s existing nuclear fleet — even if we retire a couple of plants, such as Pickering. Indeed, OPG and Bruce Power have expressed concerns about doing these refurbishments and building new because of the limited labour pool and the logistical nightmare of taking so much on in such a tight window. So, the message here is you can continue to aggressively build green energy and capture the associated jobs while keeping folks in our nuclear industry gainfully employed for the next 10 years, simply following through on an existing refurbishment schedule. Talk of building new nukes is a distraction — there will be opportunities in both sectors, and plenty of jobs to go around. We don’t have to choose one over the other.