Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program has been the driving force behind the province’s expanding renewable energy industry for more than two years.  The program is now up for its scheduled two-year review date. This is an important aspect of the FIT because it allows the policy makers to make necessary adjustments to the program as they learn from the successes and failures of the past two-years.

The biannual review also allows for tariff digression, one of the most important aspects of a successful FIT program. The idea motivating tariff digression is that the province is interested in making renewables a competitive economic investment; no more, no less. If it is not competitive then people won’t invest their money. If it is too lucrative then it wastes taxpayer money and it may also endanger the program.

The province is attempting to make the review process as open and transparent as possible and as such, it is welcoming suggestions from the general public. To have your say you can fill out an online survey at http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/fit-and-microfit-program/2-year-fit-review/ or you can send an e-mail to 2yearFITreview@ontario.ca. Ensure your submissions arrive before Dec. 14/2011.

It is a good time to reflect back: what are some of the the notable “successes and failures” of the FIT so far? Perhaps the most notable success has been job creation. Recall that the FIT is a part of the Green Energy and Economy Act and its purpose is not only to foster a sustainable energy supply but also to develop new green-collar manufacturing and engineering jobs as well. The liberals claim 20,000 new jobs have been created but the ambiguity over the word “job” makes this figure less meaningful and thus, open to criticism. What do they mean: full-time, part-time, temporary, long-term?

A third-party consulting agency working for Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) put the job creation in the burgeoning solar photovoltaic industry, only one form of renewable energy subsidized under the FIT program, at 8,200 PYE by the end of 2011. A PYE is a unit used to measure job creation and is equivalent to one person working full-time for one year. This figure seems commendable seeing that solar is planned to be 1.5% of the long-term energy mix where wind and bio-energy make-up the remaining 11.3% of non-hydro renewables. Looking at job creation from a different angle, the report also states that more than two new dozen solar module and inverter manufacturers have set up shop in Ontario since the FIT program’s inception. (See: http://www.cansia.ca/sites/default/files/economic_impacts_of_solar.pdf)

The road to a sustainable energy mix hasn’t been entirely smooth though. Ontario has come under fire from Japan and the European Union for being protectionist and violating international trade laws with the 60% Ontario content requirement for all FIT contracts. This is something yet to be fully battled out.

Another bump in the road concerned the issue of grid-capacity. A number of solar energy installation owners with signed FIT contracts invested the necessary the capital only to find out later that the grid in their area couldn’t handle the extra electricity. Some creative solutions were offered to this problem but capacity may continue to be an issue.

A simpler, more stream-lined, application process for small-scale contracts seems wanting as well.

However, despite the setbacks, the largest hurdle threatening the survival of the FIT has been surmounted already and that was the previous provincial election. For now the program seems well enough on-track and the present review process will likely improve upon it further.

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)