Analysis: Ontario firm on offshore moratorium

CANADA: New studies to examine the noise impacts and decommissioning requirements of offshore wind turbines do not signal a change in current policy prohibiting project development in the Great Lakes, according to the Ontario government.

A number of projects on Lake Ontario have been proposed
A number of projects on Lake Ontario have been proposed

The province slapped a moratorium on offshore wind in February 2011, saying more scientific studies were needed before it could write the rules governing project development and operations.

Now, three-and-a-half years later, it has posted notices requesting bids for two technical studies. One will look at predicting noise impacts through modelling, while a second will gather the best available science related to how wind turbines and other equipment should be managed at the end of their lifecycle.

"Just as Ontario took a scientific-based approach to developing the rules and requirements for land-based renewable energy projects, we are doing the same for offshore wind projects," said a spokeswoman for Ontario's environment ministry.

The province has completed three studies on offshore wind energy since the moratorium was announced, including the potential effect on Great Lakes fisheries and fish habitat, and how to mitigate them.

The new studies are expected to take six to nine months to complete and "will help build the research and science that is necessary before we make any decisions about moving forward on offshore wind development", the spokeswoman said.

Market changes

Much has changed in Ontario since the moratorium was announced. The province's feed-in tariff programme, which offered a premium rate to help cover the higher cost of offshore wind, has been scrapped in favour of competitive procurement. Ontario's long-term energy plan makes no reference to offshore wind, and the province currently has an electricity supply surplus.

"I think it's going to be a slow process for offshore wind in Ontario," said Luke Lewandowski, Make Consulting research manager. "They are smart to start the process and keep it as an option for down the road, but if they are going to put any resources towards renewables, it should be for onshore, since that's the most viable at this point."

However, a nascent offshore project off Canada's east coast received a boost when Newfoundland-based energy investment group Canadian Imperial Ventures Corp (CIVC) agreed to acquire its developer in a deal expected to close in November.

Beothuk Energy Inc (BEI), also based in Newfoundland, has been developing a 180MW offshore project in St George's Bay in the Gulf of St Lawrence. "This agreement will provide BEI access to the public markets and is another big step forward in our business plan," said Beothuk CEO Kirby Mercer.

Beothuk has said its plan is to target the Atlantic Canada and US north-east markets, but has yet to announce a power purchase contract or timeline for completion of the project.

Offshore wind provides CIVC, which is largely focused on oil and gas, with a foothold in the "highly profitable" green energy sector, said CEO Gerard Edwards. "It will balance the company's business portfolio and provides our shareholders the opportunity to participate in this exciting multi-billion dollar North American growth industry," he added.

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