At least two proposed multi-turbine wind farms in Grey-Bruce are now on hold due to the province's decision this week to suspend signing new contracts for large-scale renewable energy projects.
RES Canada had planned to submit a bid under the now-halted Large Renewable Procurement II process for a development with about 63 turbines near Dundalk.
The company, which is in the midst of holding community engagement sessions on the project, has secured agreements for about 12,000 acres of land in Southgate as well as property in Wellington County for the proposed Grand Highlands Wind Project.
“We can't advance the project right now because obviously the LRP II has been suspended for the time being,” development manager Rebecca Crump said Thursday.
“As it stands right now, we are going to keep our option land. We've had the project there since about 2010-2011 and we've held it this long. Our landowners are very supportive so we're going to maintain the project.”
Tribute Resources, meanwhile, had intended to request approval from Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator for The Mar Wind Project on the Bruce Peninsula. The company, which has been recording wind data on the peninsula since 2005, has options to lease thousands of acres near Mar.
“We're in dormancy mode right now, unfortunately,” a company spokeswoman said.
Officials with both companies said they are disappointed with the government's move.
“The entire industry is in shock,” Crump said.
Ontario's Liberal government said Tuesday that suspending LRP II will halt procurement of more than 1,000 megawatts of solar, wind, hydroelectric, bioenergy and energy-from-waste projects.
The move, it says, is expected to save up to $3.8 billion in electricity system costs and keep about $2.45 a month from being added to the average homeowner's hydro bill.
The suspension will not affect any green energy developments currently under contract with the IESO.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault has said the province approved suspending LRP II after the IESO advised him that its planning outlook determined there is “no urgent need” for Ontario to pursue additional electricity supply at this time.
He also said the decision will allow the government to “make sure that we can find ways to continue to reduce rates for energy consumers.”
The role of continued procurements will be reviewed, he said, as part of the next Long-Term Energy Plan, which Ontario intends to begin developing this fall.
The province's suspension decision is being applauded by turbine opponents, but many say the government should have stopped signing green energy contracts years ago.
Shirley Teasdale, spokesperson for the Bruce Peninsula Wind Turbine Action Group, said the move is “a step in the right direction.”
But she said the group will remain vigilant to ensure projects like the one proposed by Tribute Resources never get off the ground.
“We will continue to fight. We do not want (turbines) here. We've got three already and we have been told that we are looking at something like 300 wind turbines. And that would completely mess up the Bruce Peninsula,” she said.
Many questions about the LRP II suspension remain, she said.
“I would say that we are cautiously optimistic. What they've done is they've said they won't give out contracts for large wind projects. Well, does that mean a developer can say, we want to apply for three turbines here in this field and three in the next field and three in the one after that?” she said.
Lorrie Gillis, a long-time anti-turbine activist from Grey Highlands, said while the government's decision will come as a relief to people who are concerned about new wind developments, it is “too little, too late” for those already living near wind farms or in areas where turbines have been approved.
“We're locked into 20 years of paying through the nose whether they're producing or not,” she said.
“We also have people who have been devastated out here.”
Many wind energy opponents have said turbines can make those living near them sick, but the province has said there is no direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.
Grey Highlands Deputy-mayor Stewart Halliday, chairman of the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Working Group, said many people in southwestern Ontario are “breathing a sigh of relief” because of the LRP II suspension.
“Especially our people in (Northern Bruce Peninsula) that were concerned about a lot of the projects that they had up there. This will certainly give them a feeling of comfort about that issue,” he said.
“Hopefully, that will be on the back-burner and not become an issue.”
The group includes representatives from 11 Grey-Bruce municipalities, including Northern Bruce Peninsula and Southgate, which have both been declared by their councils as unwilling hosts for turbines.
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker said he's also pleased new contracts for large wind projects will not be signed, but noted the decision will do nothing to reduce the current high energy costs.
“My issue with it is, you're still going to build the ones that they've let so far and they let, I think, another 20 or 30 go just this year for power we don't need,” he said.
Walker said he also takes issue with the province saying its decision will save about $3.8 billion.
He said he agreed with PC Leader Patrick Brown's assessment that it's like someone saying they didn't buy a car today so they saved $25,000.
“It's not really saving. You were prepared to spend this,” said Walker, who has long called for a moratorium on new wind turbine developments in Ontario.
On the heels of the province's announcement, the Canadian Wind Energy Association said it is “shocked and extremely disappointed” by the move.
“This is a missed opportunity for the province as CanWEA believes that the Ontario planning outlook not only identifies the need for new clean energy supply in the coming years, but also understates the need for new electricity generation going forward given the important role electrification will play in meeting Ontario’s climate change commitments and transitioning to a low carbon economy,” CanWEA president Robert Hornung said in a statement.
CanWEA says “wind energy is one of the most cost-competitive sources” of new electricity supply.
Crump said RES Canada remains optimistic that new large renewable energy projects will move forward.
“There's an obvious delay right now, but we're confident and that's why we're holding onto not just this project but our lands for our various projects in Ontario,” she said.
She said a study RES Canada commissioned in 2014 determined there is 190 megawatts of capacity available on the transmission line where its Grand Highlands Wind Project is proposed. It is looking at erecting 3 MW turbines.
Tribute Resources said the province has determined the Bruce Transmission Area is capable of supporting 250 MW of incremental wind power.