The government says it will save ratepayers millions, but critics cite contractors' job losses
TORONTO – Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government is cancelling 758 renewable energy contracts, including one for a massive wind farm near London where area residents voted overwhelmingly against wind turbines but had them imposed on them by the former Liberal government.
The Tory government says the cancellations are part of its effort to reduce Ontarians electricity bills.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the move will save provincial ratepayers $790 million – a figure industry officials dispute, saying the cancellations will mean job losses for small business.
Among the contracts being cancelled is one for a massive wind farm in Dutton Dunwich, in Elgin County southwest of London, where the Liberals awarded a contract to a Chicago-based energy giant in 2016 to operate wind turbines in a project that became a flashpoint for regional anger about such operations.
More than 80 per cent of residents in the community have voted against wind turbines in a referendum, but had the project imposed on them anyway by Kathleen Wynne’s government.
“I am pleased to announce that the government has decided to cancel the Dutton/Dunwich wind turbine project,” Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, in whose riding the contract was awarded, said in a statement Friday.
“The majority of the community and municipality have been against this project from day one. We made a promise we would cancel these unnecessary energy projects and we have kept that promise as part of our plan to cut hydro rates by 12 per cent for families, farmers and small businesses,” Yurek, now the minister of natural resources and forestry in Doug Ford’s government, wrote.
The contract for the Strong Breeze wind farm with Chicago-based Inverenergy added insult to injury for area rural residents who voted against wind development in their community, which – like all Ontario municipalities – lost control under the Liberals over where such projects can be located.
First, they found out they were getting wind turbins even though they didn’t want them.
Then, they learned the support of six Ontario First Nations communities – more than 1,000 kilometres away, some not even in the same time zone – helped give the company an edge in its winning contract bid.
Rickford said the government plans to introduce legislation this summer to protect hydro consumers from any costs incurred from the contract cancellations.
“For 15 years, Ontario families and businesses have been forced to pay inflated hydro prices so the government could spend on unnecessary and expensive energy schemes,” Rickford said. “Those days are over.”
The government announcement did not indicate which projects are being cancelled.
Rickford said the move is part of a campaign pledge.
“We clearly promised we would cancel these unnecessary and wasteful energy projects as part of our plan to cut hydro rates by 12 per cent for families, farmers and small businesses,” he said. “In the past few weeks, we have taken significant steps toward keeping that promise.”
John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, called the government decision “rash.” “This is not about big business,” he said. “This is about small rooftop projects that are owned by farmers and school boards and municipalities and First Nations groups. The folks that will be hurt are the installers and contractors and the engineers: the local guys, the little guys who have built up experience in building solar over the last few years.”
Gorman said the decision will likely lead to lawsuits and will not bring hydro prices down.
“It’s preposterous to try to tie the cancellation of these small rooftop projects to any savings on people’s electricity bills,” he said. “It’s just a lose-lose-lose situation here, resulting from acting before thinking.”
NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said the decision to cancel the renewable energy contracts will hurt thousands of jobs across the province. The party called on Ford to stop cancelling contracts until the impact can be determined.
“Mr. Ford’s war on science and the environment may be pleasing his friends in back rooms and fulfilling promises he made to social conservatives that supported his election bid,” Tabuns said in a statement. “But for the rest of us, it’s going to means lost jobs, billions of dollars wasted, and tangible environmental damage.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the cancellation means the province is turning its back on the global renewable industry, which he said is worth billions and is a proven job creator.
“These types of contract cancellations expose Ontario to significant financial risk,” he added. “On top of that, they’re sending a message that Ontario’s not a safe place to do business. ”