In attempt to give some perspective to industry stakeholders, CanSIA held a webinar titled “microFIT and FIT 2.0: What it really means for Ontario’s Solar Industry”, featuring several expert panelists. Some of the key points from that webinar are discussed below.

There is now a realization that not everybody who applies can receive a FIT contract. The system of “first come first serve” has changed to one where certain projects are given priority. This was most likely introduced for at least a few reasons.  Firstly, more stringent eligibility requirements will reduce the volume of FIT applications. Secondly, it ensures that priority access is given to those projects that are more likely to succeed, ie. those without community or municipal opposition. Lastly, this amendment will alleviate some of the negative criticism, particularly around community opposition to wind turbines that the FIT program has received.

The suggested annual pricing schedule review is likely to be an improvement. It provides industry with definitive dates and timelines and establishes when changes will occur, which is in contrast to the current situation. Furthermore, it allows the FIT program to more accurately reflect changes in the price of modules or system components.

The Deputy Minister has not yet released how the new pricing schedule was calculated and it is viewed as being somewhat harsh on rooftop PV <10kW. Some attendees of the webinar suggested this may have been a political move considering that the Liberal government received continuous negative criticism from the Progressive Conservatives for the 80.2 cents/kWh tariff. This large reduction may also reflect a shift in the priorities of the provincial government towards larger scale projects where electricity can be produced at a lower cost.

The previous application procedure has been acknowledged as inadequate. The adoption of a more streamlined approach which synchronizes application processing times with project size seems to be a positive step forward.

The running theme of the webinar seemed to be that “the devil is in the details” and currently there is much information that has been left out that will need to be clarified in the updated FIT Rules from the OPA. For example, how does one demonstrate community support of a FIT application? What about the issue of connection capacity, ie. how does 10,700 MW break down? What does that mean by way of area? Stakeholders need clarity of information, for example, tables published regarding where there is connection capacity. People should have access to this information before they go to apply. How was the pricing schedule calculated? How will the new point system work? The list goes on.

Looking to the future, the draft OPA FIT Rules should be released shortly and this should clarify much of the ambiguity of the current recommendations. However, the panelists cautioned not to expect new FIT contracts immediately, suggesting that it may not happen until the Fall or perhaps sooner for microFIT and other small-scale projects.

Through all the ambiguity one thing seems clear: while simple enough in concept, the FIT program is an incredibly complex piece of legislation requiring meticulous planning and foresight for an effective execution. It must balance the needs of all stakeholders and do so in the context of a dynamic electricity system with real physical limitations. The fact that the policy is far from perfect has been acknowledged but what must also be acknowledged is the sheer difficulty of designing it. While the FIT program policy is not yet mature, it is in the process of maturing. Hopefully that fact provides some solace to a strained solar industry.

-Erik Janssen

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