Can Doug Ford keep his promise to axe green energy projects? Many rural voters hope so

Many rural voters say local concerns about green energy projects were ignored by the Liberals and now they hope Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives follow through on promises to review wind and solar projects still in the pipeline.

Green Energy Act allowed province to ignore local concerns, but election gives opponents new optimism

Group lobbying to stop solar array from being constructed on what they say is prime agricultural land near Ganaraska Forest. From left to right: Caroline Thornton, Jane Zednik, John Kordas, Phil Carey (Submitted by Phil Carey)

The election of a Progressive Conservative government in Ontario has raised the hopes of rural voters who opposed projects pushed through using the provincial Green Energy Act despite local objections.

John Kordas has been rallying local residents and lobbying the government against a 500-kilowatt solar project next door to his farm on 6330 Ganaraska Rd. in Port Hope.

Under the Green Energy Act, Ontario has approved dozens of wind turbine projects like this over the years. But in the last year, only one has been given the go-ahead. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Now, he says, he's been told by members of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party that the new government will pull the plug on Renesola GreenLife Solar Project #19.

"For all projects that are not complete or have missed their completion date, the intent is to cancel the projects entirely," said Kordas. "That was welcome news to us. Let's hope they follow through on that regard,"

Kordas, 60, has long contended that the property is fertile farmland and, therefore, not a suitable site for a solar farm.

"This project ought never to have set foot on prime agricultural land." 

A solar panel is pictured in Prince Edward Island.
A solar farm like this one is planned for a farmer's field on Ganaraska Road in Port Hope. Local opponents say the property is prime agricultural land and unsuitable for the project. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

He says Project #19 was slated to be producing power as of April 2018, but little has been done on the site so far.

ReneSola did not return calls from CBC News, but in an email Andrew Dow of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) said:  "The contractual status of the project is that it has been given a notice to proceed with construction and has not reached commercial operation."

Kordas says opposition to initiatives such as Project #19 was one of the reasons why many rural voters wanted the Liberals out.

"The fact that there was no consultation, the fact that there was no public engagement, the fact that there was no public support, the fact that there was no local council support. Yes, that helped put the Liberals where they are today," he said.

Green Energy Act helped approve projects and 'ram them through'

The Green Energy Act came online in 2009 promising lucrative contracts for wind and solar generated energy through a Feed-In-Tariff program. It also overrode all municipal regulations, planning, and zoning bylaws, allowing the Ministry of the Environment to approve projects directly.

Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph who specializes in environmental economics and policy analysis, says the act caused a lot of friction in rural communities. 

"It meant it was easier for the energy minister's office to site new wind turbine facilities and just ram them through, but it did mean they went in over the objections of local property owners," he said.

Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph, says the Green Energy Act made it easier for the provincial energy ministry to approve projects over the objections of local property owners. (University of Guelph)

"The fact that the Ford campaign was running explicitly against the Green Energy Act, I think, played a very strong role in rural ridings and they are also now going to be expecting him to follow through on those commitments."

Dave Nixon, 73, lives in Prince Edward County south of Belleville. 

He and other members of  the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC) opposed a local green energy project because of its effect on wildlife.

The amateur herpetologist says the Blanding's turtle, an endangered species, is being put at further risk due to the construction of wind turbines for the White Pines Wind Project near Milford.

'Shut this damn project down,' activist tells PCs

"All I'm asking for is for (PC MPP) Todd Smith and Doug Ford to shut this damn project down," says Nixon.

The company says over the next four weeks, it will be taking delivery of turbine components to be stored on private lands. 

Ford announced Friday that the new government will cancel Ontario's current cap-and-trade scheme, Nixon hopes the Green Energy Act is next, but isn't sure how that will happen.

"The problem now is the Liberals can't do it because they will get sued. Can the Conservatives? I don't know," Nixon said.

Professor Warren Mabee, from Queen's University's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, says while projects that are not yet online may be less costly to cancel, Ford's promise to end the Green Energy Act may be expensive due to the legal costs of breaking contracts. (Queen's University)

Under the Feed In Tariff program, large and small green energy producers signed contracts with the province at fixed rates per kilowatt hour that were higher to encourage the building of solar and wind farms. 

Professor Warren Mabee from Queen's University's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy says projects that are not yet online may be less costly to cancel.

Province could face court challenges

"There is a possibility that [Ford] could end those contracts  — they would certainly be the easiest ones," he said. 

"Undoubtedly you would be taken to court by companies who have invested heavily. It's going to cost a fair bit of money and cost us credibility with the international business community."

Mabee says Ford's election promise to reduce hydro bills by 12 per cent may be a challenge.

"It's hard to see how we could reduce prices by cancelling everything we've done. The better thing to do, and I suspect what he will do, is not rip up all the contracts. It will be renegotiation."

Eric Gillespie, a Toronto lawyer who represents a group that wants to stop the construction of a wind project near Milford, says his clients hope Ford follows through with his promise. ( Eric K. Gillespie Professional Corporation)

Toronto lawyer Eric Gillespie, who is acted on behalf of APPEC against White Pines, says even before the election, the Liberals were signalling that the province had enough electricity. He says only one wind project has been approved in last year.

"So even the Wynne government had essentially stopped approving projects," Gillespie said. He also says the White Pines Wind Project faces court challenges that could also prevent the turbines from going up.

"Needless to say the people in Prince Edward County and elsewhere are hoping the government sticks to its commitment and not proceed with any of these types of projects."


Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC National News

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with three decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for the National Network based in Toronto. His stories are on CBC Radio's World Report, World This Hour, World at Six and The World This Weekend as well as CBC TV's The National and CBC News Online. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.