By now, you’ve heard about the Ontario government’s decision to eliminate the feed-in tariff (FIT) for large-scale wind and replace it with a competitive bid procurement mechanism.
Credit new Premiere Kathleen Wynne for demonstrating plenty of political savvy. By amending the province’s procurement program, she instantly neutralized the growing anti-wind rhetoric from the rival Progressive Conservative Party and others. However, that’s where the bon mots end. From the moment the Dalton McGuinty government announced the FIT program as part of the passage of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009, the program has been marked by delays, setbacks and general bewilderment.
Developers claim the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), which oversees and administers the FIT program, has been overwhelmed by the response to the FIT program. For the microFIT program – for renewable energy projects 10 kW and less – the OPA received more than 800 applications. Anecdotally, some developers claim that FIT applications are being automatically discarded for even the slightest discrepancy.
“There’s been an implementation and communication gap with the FIT, and those two things need to get fixed going forward,” explains Kristopher Stevens, executive director at the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association.
While the provincial government certainly deserves plenty of blame, wind developers themselves are equally responsible for the growing levels of resentment in Ontario.
Simply put, wind developers must do a better job of engaging municipalities. Nothing fuels antipathy to wind faster than if the general public perceives the actions and statements of wind developers as being motivated by self-interest. For wind energy to reverse the ill will now permeating the province, serious changes will have to be made in the way that developers engage the community.
Stevens maintains that for any new program involving wind energy to have credibility with the public, there needs to be communication, empowerment and accountability by all stakeholders.
For example, he says, if there are defined timelines with contracts and the OPA fails to meet them, the agency should be penalized. And wind developers could do their part by simply doing more than the required minimum when discussions begin with communities.
If actions do not change – and the status quo remains – the level of resentment in Ontario will only grow no matter what program is used to procure wind energy. w