Ontario Liberals get FIT but may still nuke green energy

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At the end of March, the Ontario Liberals received their two-year review of the Feed-In Tariff Program (FIT). The FIT was a component of 2009's Green Energy Act that aimed to procure renewable energy at a fixed, contracted rate that would both spur the renewable energy sector in the province and facilitate the shutdown of coal power generation.

Liberal communiqués around the proposed revisions highlighted five recommendations, including reducing the purchase rate for wind and solar energy and implementing a point system to encourage more community, Aboriginal and municipal involvement.

The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, a province-wide not-for-profit focused on community and commercial sustainable energy in Ontario, has come out in support of the FIT revisions.

"Our roots are in the community power sector," said Kristopher Stevens, OSEA's executive director. "The thrust around greater municipal engagement as well as the prioritization of projects based on community and aboriginal participation in them is a real success story for us."

The FIT has been a repeated target for Ontario's PC party, which continues to call for the scrapping of the program in its entirety. In a Toronto Star article, Conservative Energy Critic Vic Fideli accused the FIT of crowding nuclear and hydro off of Ontario's grid.

"When you generate power from wind and solar, all you're doing is taking clean, renewable hydro off the grid and taking nuclear off the grid," said Fideli.

There have also been concerns from municipalities and communities on their level of involvement in the renewable procurement process.

Stevens suggests that issues about the Green Energy Act were blown out of proportion by the media, but he also points out that the Act has caused some legitimate local concerns.

"There were pieces that were missing. Having met with some mayors and local people, I would suggest that the main thing missing is the opportunity for meaningful engagement between the developer and the community."

While Stevens says that the revisions take the program "a step towards addressing what was missing," he is quick to temper his support.

"If we've learned anything it's that the devil is in the details. What the higher level principles and recommendations are once they are operationalized will depend significantly on people being engaged in providing feedback and recommendations on that process."

One of the significant devils for opponents of nuclear energy is that the target, or cap, on renewable energy procurement in Ontario's Long Term Energy Plan. The province's cap on new renewable energy development is presently 10 070MW.

While Greenpeace Canada's Shawn-Patrick Stensil argues that the Green Energy Act is vital for Ontario, he has major concerns about capping renewable energy growth and reserving 50 per cent of the grid for nuclear.

"The Green Energy Act is essential for Ontario to stay competitive internationally and clean up our dirty electricity system. The Act will simply expire in 2018 unless the government rethinks its plan to build new reactors and rebuild all the existing ones."

Perhaps in an effort to appease its critics, the Liberals provided green energy a small window of opportunity by pledging to re-examine its supply and demand forecast at the end of 2013 in order to evaluate whether more new renewable supply should be supported by the province.

However, Stensil argues that the nuke industry must offer the same kind of cost transparency that renewables are subjected to if Ontario is to engage in a meaningful analysis of energy options.

"Renewable energy has been unfairly criticized for being honest. The best thing the government could do to build on the success of the Green Energy Act would be to come clean on nuclear costs. Ontarians are consistently misled on the costs of nuclear generation," says Stensil.

Steve Cornwell is an MA candidate at York University. He is interested in the interactions of social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, and Safe and Green Energy Peterborough. Follow Steve Cornwell on Twitter.

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