By Rob Ferguson
27 September 2016
(The Star) – Ontario is blowing off plans for more wind and solar power as it feels the heat over high electricity bills less than two years before a provincial election.
In its latest effort to curb prices, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government is axing plans to sign another $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts, Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said Tuesday.
The move — which the Progressive Conservatives have demanded for years — will prevent $2.45 from being added to the average homeowner’s monthly hydro bill in the coming years.
Thibeault called it a “common sense” decision after the province’s electricity planning agency recently advised there is no “urgent need” for additional supply given Ontario’s surplus of generating capacity.
“I’ve been tasked to find ways to bring bills down,” said Thibeault, who was appointed minister last June. “When our experts said we didn’t need it, that’s when I acted.”
There may be more measures to come, Thibeault hinted in a speech prepared for the Ontario Energy Association on Tuesday night.
He pledged to “take a prudent look at every policy decision that has been made and determine if there is work we can do to reduce costs to Ontarians.”
The projects scrapped Tuesday would have created up to 1,000 megawatts of power, just under one-third of the 3,500 megawatts the four-unit Darlington nuclear power station produces near Oshawa.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown called the suspension “too little, too late” while former Liberal energy minister George Smitherman and environmentalists suggested the government should have taken aim at costly nuclear refurbishments.
“Ontario had a choice to look forward but it chose to look backwards,” Smitherman said in a statement.
“The cancellation of the Large Renewable Procurement (LRP II) program makes it a scapegoat for pricing when the real culprit for oversupply is the aging Pickering nuclear plant.”
Ontario is planning to keep Pickering open until 2024 to provide electricity while it spends $12.8 billion refurbishing Darlington.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said “the Liberals have chosen the wrong target,” echoing comments from the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defence that the renewable cancellation is “short-sighted.”
“If you’re concerned about cost, you do more renewables and less nuclear,” said Gideon Forman from the foundation, noting the suspension will cost jobs in the green energy sector.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association warned cancelling the renewables will make it harder for Ontario to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets in the battle against climate change.
Thibeault insisted the government is not “backtracking” on green energy because previously signed renewable contracts will go ahead in the province, eventually providing 18,000 megawatts of green energy. He said 90 per cent of generation, including nuclear, is emissions-free.
Sixteen projects — five wind, seven solar and four hydroelectric — approved last winter are proceeding and expected to create 455 megawatts of generating capacity.
That means ratepayers will still be on the hook for “energy we don’t need,” said Brown.
“They’ve made a huge mistake on the energy file … bills are still going to go up.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath blamed increasing privatization of the electricity system for steadily rising prices in the last decade, leaving Ontarians “paying the freight.”
The Liberal government, lagging in the polls, announced in its throne speech two weeks ago that the 8 per cent provincial tax on electricity will come off bills starting in January.
Many rural homeowners who face high delivery charges for hydro will also see 20 per cent savings, and 1,000 more companies will be able to take advantage of a program that allows them to shift hydro use away from periods of peak demand in return for lower prices.
That’s in addition to a hydro subsidy plan for low-income residents called the Ontario Electricity Support Program already in place. [more]