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Aggressive proposals for policy action -- Lead by Ontario legislators could set American standard

A legislative committee investigating ways to promote alternative energy in Ontario has released a sweeping series of recommendations that could make the Canadian province a leader in renewable energy development. "If Ontario were to do this, it would absolutely be the most progressive energy jurisdiction in North America," says Jim Salmon, a former president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).

Steve Gilchrest, a Conservative member of the provincial parliament and committee member, agrees. If the government adopts the framework laid out in the report, he says, "Ontario would have the most comprehensive, most progressive, most aggressive assault on air pollution anywhere in the world." It would also reap the economic and environmental benefits of a move to cleaner energy, says committee chair Doug Galt, a member of the province's Conservative governing party.

Among the most significant of the 141 recommendations is the call for a Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) to be in place by next June, mandating a minimum standard for the proportion of renewables in electricity supply portfolios. "The RPS shall be amongst the most aggressive in North America and shall include provisions to eliminate carbon based electricity generation in Ontario by 2015," the committee declares in its 69 page final report.

If the committee gets its way, two of Ontario's five coal fired plants will be shut down within three years and replaced by a wind farm or wind farms, while all remaining coal and oil fired generating stations will be closed within 13 years. The province's 7553 MW of coal fired generation generates about 40,000 GWh of electricity each year.

Production incentive

To complement the RPS, the committee also recommends a C$0.001/kWh systems benefit charge on power prices to support renewables programs and projects, as well as a carbon tax by July 2005. Furthermore, the committee is pushing for an increase in the renewable set-aside in the electricity sector's current emissions trading system for NOx and SO2 and to develop a carbon trading system with a target implementation date of July 1, 2005.

The report makes a number of recommendations specific to wind power, including a call for the province to match the federal government's C$0.012/kWh production incentive for new wind power projects. It says the government should develop a policy for wind power development on land owned by the province, which covers about 87% of Ontario, and assess priority sites for wind farms.

It should also develop a provincial standard for wind project zoning to "make them immune from local municipal prohibition" and consider a ten year property tax holiday for wind turbines. In addition a standardised environmental assessment process for wind and other renewable energy proposals should be in place by the end of this year.

The report calls for a net metering policy for wind turbines less than 60 kW -- allowing the owners of small turbines to offset their use of electricity from the grid with their own generation -- as well as mandatory disclosure of generation fuel sources and their pollution emissions. All levels of government, as well as public institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals should set targets for clean energy use, energy efficiency and conservation.

Transmission too

The committee wants polices and standards that facilitate non-discriminatory connection to the transmission grid and local distributed generation. "New transmission policies need to be developed to accommodate geographically scattered renewable power sites, such as wind installations. In some isolated locations grid extension may not be practical or economic. Renewable power should be developed to serve isolated communities and to displace costly diesel generation," the report says.

The report, released June 5, is now in the hands of energy minister Chris Stockwell. But just how much of its self-described "aggressive action" becomes government policy remains to be seen. "I'm not sure how realistic it would be to implement all of the recommendations," says Superior Wind Energy's Claude Mindorff, who sat on the Ontario Wind Power Task Force. But the scope of the report shows the committee took the input it received seriously, he adds. "To their credit, they listened to people who are in the industry."

Several observers who have welcomed the recommendations, including Salmon and Jake Brooks of the the Independent Power Producers Society of Ontario, point out that the nine members of the committee, who represented all three political parties in the Ontario legislature, agreed unanimously on the recommendations. That consensus, says Brooks, make it a "very strong report."

Minister's reaction

Diana Arajs from Stockwell's office says the minister plans to move forward as quickly as possible. "It's definitely a positive report and there are some great suggestions." Arajs says while the minister recognises the need to reduce emissions and develop cleaner energy alternatives, "he does feel that their timeline will be very difficult to meet."

The most important step the province can take now, says Mindorff, is the implementation of a "very simple and very transparent" RPS as soon as possible. In fact, the committee's RPS timeline is one he wants the government to try to beat. "I think the industry needs to see this by the end of year," he says. "If people see an RPS is going to happen, they are going to proceed with engineering and they are going to proceed with committing to contracts."

This is especially important for the wind industry, explains Mindorff, because the federal wind incentive's highest payment level is awarded during the program's first year. "The 1.2 cents is gone as of March 2003 and we're down to one cent. We'll have lost twenty-five per cent of our production incentive because we haven't done anything."

CanWEA estimates there is more than 3000 MW of commercially viable wind power potential in Ontario, but the province currently has only 3 MW of installed capacity.

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