According to the Ontario Power Authority, Ontario already has 4,125 MW of renewable energy projects operating and 6,255 MW under development thanks to the feed-in tariff (FIT) program.
For perspective Alberta has only 967 MW of wind power and comparatively very little hydro, biomass or solar.
“If you drive around the province you see the evidence of the energy strategy in front of you. You see farmers that have ground-mount solar systems on their land, you see wind turbines and wind farms everywhere. It’s clearly visible compared to five years ago,” said Tyler Hamilton editor ofCorporate Knights magazine and a Toronto Star columnist.
Ontario has two scales of projects involved in the FIT program. FIT projects involve systems larger than 10 kW and micro-FIT involves projects smaller than 10 kW. A solar PV system for a home is typically between five and 10 kW.
The number of applications is staggering. A total of 1,968 FIT contracts totalling 4,620 MW were issued. And of 9,898 contracts in total, 86 MW were issued for small solar, wind, bioenergy and hydro projects under the micro FIT program by the end of 2011.
The Ontario government also decided to get rid of coal-fired power plants in Ontario. Since 2003, 10 of 19 coal generation units have been shut down and coal use has been cut by 90 per cent.
Back in 2008 “Premier (Dalton) McGuinty said ‘I think we can do more with renewables and conservation,’” said George Smitherman, former energy minister, who interpreted this as his marching orders to come up with new alternatives for energy in Ontario.
“I took a look at Europe for the feed-in-tariff and California for good energy conservation policies and brought forward the Green Energy Act,” he added.
The way it works is, everybody with an electricity bill pays a bit more every month so that renewable energy systems can get established.
Put another way, electric utilities are obligated to buy renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, hydro etc.) at rates that cover costs and include a fair return on investment.
The pace of change has been blistering and this has certainly brought with it some headaches. But then again the current electricity system was built with a hodge-podge of subsidies, technologies and players that created a system in Ontario that was dominated by nuclear and coal energy.
Ontario’s feed-in tariff gets individuals, businesses and community groups involved in renewable energy. It creates cost certainty and allows diverse investors to more safely invest in building new energy infrastructure.
While it’s easy to blame rising electricity prices on the FIT, Ontario had a system where prices would be going up regardless. Ontario’s generation fleet needs to be replaced and it costs money to replace it whether it’s coal-fired, nuclear or renewables.
But Dr. David Colby, – the Chatham-Kent acting medical officer of health, in an area of the country that has some very vocal anti-wind advocates – has reviewed 17 different studies on the health effects wind turbine noise. He has also testified internationally that he does not believe they cause any harm.
“You can’t prove a negative hypothesis,” Colby told Postmedia. “You can’t prove there are no ghosts.”
Environmental lawyer Dianne Saxe says in her blog “Health Canada’s wind turbine health study is doomed to irrelevance, because it is largely based on asking people whether they are annoyed about wind turbines.”
Like most things the question of whether you are “annoyed” by wind turbines comes down to money. In a Massachusetts study (page 27) on wind and health effects people who were financially benefiting from wind turbines experienced “virtually no annoyance regardless of whether those people could see or hear a turbine.”
There is no question there are places wind turbines should not be built and some folks are very annoyed by wind turbines, but on the flipside the Green Energy Act has involved more than 10,000 people and organizations in building new green energy infrastructure in Ontario.
Troy Media columnist David Dodge is the host and producer of Green Energy Futures, a multi-media series presented at www.greenenergyfutures.ca. The series is supported by TD, Suncor Energy and the Pembina Institute.