Ontario suspends Great Lakes projects

CANADA: Ontario has called a halt to its offshore wind projects in an abrupt about-face that has left observers wondering about the motives behind the decision.

The provincial government surprised the industry in February with an announcement that it would no longer accept applications for offshore wind projects under its feed-in tariff (FIT) programme and will suspend those that have already been filed.

No offshore wind projects on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes had yet received the necessary approvals to proceed, but several were in planning and one had already received a FIT contract. Officials "will be meeting with this developer to discuss the contractual obligations", says Kate Jordan, from Ontario's environment ministry.

Windstream Energy, which won a contract for its 300MW Wolfe Island Shoals project in Lake Ontario last April, did not respond to a request for comment.

The government has determined that more scientific study is needed before it can develop rules for offshore development, says Jordan. She says the province plans to work with neighbouring US jurisdictions "to develop research that makes sure any future proposed projects protect the environment on both sides of the Great Lakes".

Whereas the Ontario government felt comfortable developing setback requirements and noise standards for onshore wind based on three decades of experience, studies and modelling, adds Jordan, "offshore wind in freshwater is still in the early stages of development".

Tim Stephure, a senior analyst with Cambridge-based IHS Emerging Energy Research, says that while the lack of data on freshwater wind installations is a valid point, he doubts it was the determining factor. The government has faced growing criticism over the cost of its green energy ambitions. The fact that it will be facing voters at the polls in October is likely to have played a role, he says.

The lack of progress in bringing the offshore projects to fruition means the overall effect will be limited, says Stephure. He adds: "As far as the renewables market as a whole in Ontario goes, I don't think the decision has a huge impact."

However, the wind industry is disappointed. Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, says: "This is an unfortunate decision that surrenders the province's leadership role in exploring the potential for offshore wind energy in the Great lakes and creates significant uncertainty for investors."

The province placed a moratorium on offshore wind projects in 2006 while it examined environmental issues. That ban was lifted in 2008.

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