Ont. goes ahead with large green energy projects

Ontario's Liberal government announced Thursday it was proceeding with dozens of large wind and solar projects, despite having to delay hundreds of smaller green energy projects because of limited access to the power grid.

Ontario's Liberal government announced Thursday it was proceeding with dozens of large wind and solar projects, despite having to delay hundreds of smaller green energy projects because of limited access to the power grid.

The 39 new wind and solar installations and one hydro-electric station will generate a total of 872 megawatts in one-to-three years, enough to power about 200,000 homes, said Energy Minister Brad Duguid.

"Our long-term energy plan is working, and we're attracting billions of dollars of private investment and creating thousands of clean energy jobs," said Duguid.

"These projects alone represent an estimated 7,000 direct and indirect jobs and $3 billion in private sector investment."

The Opposition questioned the government's job estimates. PC Leader Tim Hudak called them a "fantasy."

The Tories and NDP also said the Liberals had blown their credibility on energy by mishandling about 1,000 small scale solar projects that can't connect to the distribution system.

Facing growing anger over wind turbines and an election just eight months away, the Liberals recently announced a moratorium on off-shore wind farms. It was almost identical to a moratorium they announced before the 2007 election which was lifted after they were re-elected.

"We've seen a spectacular backtrack on wind and solar projects last week [and] we saw an amazing backtrack on a gas plant in Oakville," said Hudak.

"These guys made an expensive mess of the energy file and families are stuck with the bill."

The Liberals have "fumbled the ball significantly" in the way they've dealt with their renewable energy program, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"The government makes a big splash with their announcements and then they don't iron out the details and everything falls apart," she said.

"I think the government likes to paint a rosy picture, but we don't know the details of the contracts yet or how firm those job numbers are."

So many farmers signed up to take advantage of the huge subsidies for small solar projects — guaranteed rates up to 80 cents a kilowatt hour while consumers pay between five and 10 cents — the province is having trouble hooking about 1,000 of them to the grid.

More than 4,000 have been connected under the microFIT program for small solar generators, and the government is trying to get the others hooked up as quickly as possible, said Duguid.

"The vast majority of microFIT projects have been approved and are going forward and getting connections," he said.

"There are some where there are connection challenges, but these [large] projects would not have been approved if there had not been capacity, so there's a difference between the two types of projects."

The government will make sure farmers and others who want to get into the microFIT program will know to check first to see if they can be connected to the distribution system before they start spending money on their project, added Duguid.

"We've changed the application process where applicants are advised up front: don't make your investments until you're sure that the connections are in place," he said.

"There are some applicants that may not have been fully aware that they wouldn't have their connections in place, and that's why we're working so hard to get those connections as quickly as we can."

Both Tories and New Democrats said the government is wrong to force green energy projects on communities that don't want them, and claimed the Liberals only back off when Liberal seats are at risk.

"Municipal councils can have their say about the location of a Tim Hortons. They can have their say about the location of 7-Eleven, but when it comes to your expensive industrial wind farms that could be several football fields in length, you believe that Premier McGuinty knows best," Hudak said in the legislature.

"We believe that local, democratically elected municipal councils know what's best."

The NDP also said the Liberals were creating needless problems by forcing communities to accept wind or solar farms.

"There's one thing the government miscalculated and that is the importance of community voice on these issues," said Horwath.

The Opposition said the latest Liberal moratorium on wind farms was to protect Duguid's Scarborough Centre riding in the Oct. 6 election after widespread opposition to a wind farm off the Scarborough bluffs.

And they said the Oakville natural gas plant was killed to save Liberal Kevin Flynn from defeat after local opponents brought in American activist Erin Brockovich to speak against the project.