Provincial Liberals halted all offshore development in 2011, citing a lack of data; the moratorium is still in place, but Energy minister admits he's not sure there's any ongoing research
TORONTO—Five years after issuing a moratorium on offshore wind projects, the Ontario government says it still doesn’t have enough information to decide if the ban should be lifted.
A NAFTA tribunal last week awarded $28 million in damages to Windstream Energy, whose $5.2-billion, 300-megawatt offshore wind contract was put in limbo by the 2011 moratorium.
The tribunal decision is not yet publicly available, but Windstream says the ruling found the provincial government “on the whole did relatively little to address the scientific uncertainty surrounding offshore wind that it relied upon as the main publicly cited reason for the moratorium.”
Windstream director David Mars said he’s unclear as to whether the government is still conducting research.
“We haven’t had a conversation with them since four energy ministers ago,” he said. “We’ve attempted and tried, but we’ve been rebuffed at all passes.”
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault said lifting the moratorium eventually is not off the table as the government conducts a review of its long-term energy plan, but for now it needs to continue.
“It is important for us to try and look at getting the (Ministry of the Environment) involved to ensure that we can have a clear understanding on some of the aspects and some of the possible problems that are related with offshore wind,” Thibeault said.
“We do have a lot of data on on-shore wind, but we don’t have enough yet on offshore wind.”
Even though the moratorium has been in place for five years, Thibeault said more data is needed, but he is “not 100 per cent sure” if research is still actively being conducted.
Both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives said the moratorium was never about research, it was about saving Liberal seats in the run-up to the 2011 election.
“They’ve done no more new research as far as we know,” said PC energy critic John Yakabuski. “They keep talking about it, but it was a political decision that we know now has cost us at least $28 million.”
The Windstream contract was signed at a time when the Ontario government was shutting down coal-fired electricity generation and looking for green sources of power. Now, the Liberal government is under fire for its green energy program, recently cancelling plans to sign contracts for up to 1,000 megawatts of power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.
It was determined that power wasn’t needed, Thibeault said, though he stressed that Ontario isn’t backing away from its green energy policies, including long-term contracts—most for 20 years—for 18,000 megawatts of power from wind, solar bio-energy and energy-from-waste projects.
Mars, of Windstream, said he couldn’t speak to whether Ontario still needed the power from his company’s project, but he is still hoping the contract is fulfilled.
“Walking away from this contract now creates a significant riskiness to investment in the province in general and specifically any foreign investment coming from abroad,” he said.
“We invest around the world and we’ve never had this situation happen to us before. Whether it be Russia or Brazil, we’ve always signed our contracts and been able to implement and fulfil them, so it’s very strange to us that in North America, specifically that Ontario would be such a risky place to invest.”
Thibeault said the government is taking time to review the tribunal’s decision.
The Liberal government is also under criminal investigation and is being sued over another offshore wind project.
Trillium Power Wind Corp. has alleged in a lawsuit that government officials destroyed documents after the company sued over the government’s cancellation of a Lake Ontario wind project. The provincial police started an investigation in the spring after Trillium made a complaint.
None of Trillium’s allegations has been proven in court.
In its statement of defence, the government says it was a coincidence that the moratorium and cancellations were issued just before Trillium’s financing was set to close.