The Ontario provincial government launched the ambitious Green Energy and Economy Act (GEA) in 2009 to encourage the adoption of renewable energy into the province’s electricity mix and to create a new sector of “green-collar” jobs. The largest component of the GEA is the Feed-In Tariff program (FIT). It allows any individual or community stakeholder to produce their own renewable energy and sell it to the local utility at a premium rate that is guaranteed for 20 years.

In terms of uptake, the program has generally been viewed as a success, with 2,000 FIT contracts and 12,000 microFIT contracts having been offered, totalling 4,600 MW of renewable energy. Furthermore, the province claims 20,000 jobs have been created since the program’s inception.

However, despite these successes, there currently seems to be a strong undertone of discontent in Ontario’s solar industry. It seems that the program has been on pause over the past several months, with new FIT contract offers being delayed. Furthermore, there are complaints about a lack of clarity from the provincial government on when this situation will be rectified.

Part of this delay is from the FIT program’s 2-year review that has been conducted over the last several months by the Deputy Energy Minister.  After having solicited feedback from various community stakeholders and private industry, the Ministry of Energy has recently finished a list of recommended FIT program policy adjustments to be adopted by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). The document is publicly available at: http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/docs/en/FIT-Review-Report.pdf.

The FIT upgrade, unofficially dubbed “FIT 2.0,” has several changes but is stated to be a reaffirmation of Ontario’s commitment to clean energy.  Some of the more important changes are listed below:

  • The program target of 10,700 MW of non-hydro renewable electricity procured is set to be hit by 2015 where the previous date was 2018.
  • Instead of 2-year reviews, there will be an annual review of the pricing schedule in November of each year and changes will come into effect the following January.
  • To streamline the FIT contract approval process, three streams, based on the size and impact of the project, are suggested. This will allow MicroFIT projects and small-scale FIT projects to get through the system quicker.
  • Renewable energy producers should be given 18 months from the time a contract is offered to get their installation connected to the grid instead of the current three years.
  • FIT projects with community, municipal or aboriginal support will be given priority and this will be evaluated using a new points system instead of the old system which was first come first serve.
  • Tariffs should be altered according to a new schedule. Suggested reductions are greatest for solar PV. Hydro and bioenergy didn’t change and wind was slightly reduced. The highest tariff for roof-top solar <10 kW was cut from 80.2 cents/kWh to 54.9 cents/kWh, a reduction of 31.5%.
  • More stringent land-use and zoning requirements for ground-mounted solar >10kW.
  • Strategies for international expansion and export should be developed to ensure long-term industry survival.

The topic of what these changes may actually mean for the solar industry will be discussed in a subsequent post.

-Erik Janssen

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

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