A spokeswoman for the Nor’Wester Mountain Escarpment Protection Committee says she’s ecstatic that Horizon Wind Inc.’s planned turbine farm in Thunder Bay might be dead in the water.
Irene Bond said she learned on Friday that the Ontario Power Authority had cancelled the Toronto-based company’s feed-in tariff contract, essentially ending the agreement to sell energy to the provincial grid.
Bond said the news caught her off guard.
“If this is the news that will end this project, that the FIT contract is indeed cancelled for the whole project, yeah it is a surprise and a very welcome one,” she said.
“I’m just thrilled that this will finally be over. We’ve been at it for five years as a community grass-roots group to educate people about the destruction and the history of the land and that it deserves better than to be industrialized.”
The OPA confirmed the contract cancellation via email on Friday, citing project delays as the main reason for the decision.
“The Big Thunder Wind Park project was significantly delayed due to force majeure events,” OPA spokeswoman Mary Bernard said. “Under a FIT contract, either party to the contract has the right to terminate the contract if force majeure events delay a project past 24 months. The OPA terminated the Big Thunder Park project for this reason.”
According to Bernard, a force majeure is a stipulation in a contract that provides relief to a party when events beyond their control prevent them from fulfilling certain contractual obligations. But it also specifies a time limit to get things back on track.
“The OPA cannot provide details of the force majeure events due to confidentiality obligations under the contract,” Bernard said.
It’s unclear if there is an appeal process available to Horizon at this time.
Horizon Wind released a brief statement saying they have provided notice of dispute to the OPA on their decision to end the contract.
"Pending resolution of the disputed issues, Horizon Wind is evaluating its options," the statement reads.
The project was first approved by Thunder Bay city council in 2007.
A dispute with the city led to Horizon in 2010 filing a $126-million lawsuit against the municipality when council refused to approve certain turbine locations.
The city later backed down and the lawsuit was tossed.
More recently Fort William First Nation filed a judicial review against the Ministry of the Environment asking for all work on the project to stop until the community had been properly consulted.
The FWFN claim alleged the province failed to consult them about the project itself and the company’s 2013 renewable energy approval.
Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau called it a great day, but said the band won't drop any of its legal challenges until they're 100 per cent certain the project won't be completed.
"It's still slightly early for that," Morriseau said. "Right now, today we've been working on trying to receive more confirmation on what this actually means for the project itself, for the REA application and process moving forward.
"Once we do receive that confirmation we'll be sure to update both communities on the developments."
It's not necessarily the end of the project, she cautioned.
"It wouldn't come as a surprise if there is an appeal," she said, adding she thinks treaty rights must come first and be protected and will ultimately prevail.
City of Thunder Bay officials said they too are looking into the legal implications of the decision, after learning of it that morning.
“At this point we're trying to understand what it means. We have a lease with Horizon, so I've asked our staff to look at it," Commisso said, wary of speaking to specifics of the lease or whether or not he thinks it's a good decision.
Mayor Keith Hobbs had little to say.
“I have no comment at this time,” he said.
Minister of Natural Resources Bill Mauro said he was advised two or three days ago through the Ministry of Energy the contract was being terminated.
Mauro, a longtime opponent of the project, was coy in his reaction when asked Friday morning.
“My position on it has been well known,” Mauro said. “This is an OPA decision. The Ontario Power Authority has informed me … they’re not going through with the project and I think that we’re all going to move forward from there.”