Gov't cap on hydro gen 'stifling' wind projects.
The Ontario government may be promoting the virtues of clean, renewable energy, but for Terry Wojick, that policy doesn't seem to apply in his region.
The president of Northern Wind Power says a restrictive 50-MW cap isn't creating the type of business-friendly environment that encourages wind prospecting and investment in his corner of the North.
In the four years Wojick has been in business, he's attracted two major wind companies, including AIM PowerGen Corp., to the North Bay-Mattawa area, and erected 11 meteorological towers on four projects.
AIM, one of Ontario's biggest wind farm developers, was among 16 companies selected by the province during the first round of RFPs (Request for Proposals) to assess wind power potential on 21 Crown land sites.
Wojick says all his projects were progressing well until last April when the province released a second round of RFPs for more renewable energy.
He was shocked to discover the Ministry of Energy has imposed a restrictive cap on the North East Zone, north and east of Sudbury, for new wind and water generation projects. The existing transmission infrastructure doesn't have the capacity to carry more power into the Ontario grid.
"All we're asking is a fair opportunity to bid into this RFP process," says Wojick, "and with the 50-MW restriction we can barely compete."
Wojick calls the wind regime in northeastern Ontario "as good as any other part of the province," and he feels he's done his part to attract investment for potential development.
"I think Northern Ontario has 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts (of new power) to offer southern Ontario," says Wojick.
He adds that he believes about 600 MW worth of transmission capacity is needed for various projects in the northeast.
He admits his clients and investors are getting anxious and if the cap stays in place, it could kill the projects and his business.
AIM PowerGen president Mike Crawley says there's a "tremendous amount of opportunity" to develop both low-impact hydro and wind power resources across the North.
"We're certainly waiting to see what Hydro One is going to do to expand the transmission capacity coming out of Northern Ontario," says Crawley, whose company is commissioning the 100-MW Erie Shores Wind Farm in southwestern Ontario this year. Wojick has erected a meteorological tower for AIM in Mattawan Township.
"We are investing in one project, but we'll probably hold off on further investment until we see what more is going to be done to expand that transmission."
Last December, Energy Minister Donna Cansfield received the Ontario Power Authority's report on the province's future electricity supply mix which will be part of future power system planning.
The plan includes building new generation capacity, "maximizing Ontario's existing transmission and generation assets" as well as "putting infrastructure in place" for Ontario's long-term electricity needs.
But Wojick says his calls and letters to the Ministry have fallen on deaf ears.
"They sympathize with the problem but they're not acting."
Jay Aspin, a former FedNor development officer who helped attract AIM PowerGen, says Queen's Park is sending confusing signals by releasing RFPs for new energy, but not backing it up with the necessary transmission capacity. He calls the 50-MW cap a "deterrent to investment.
"There's mixed messages to proposed investors," who might "vote with their feet" and invest in other jurisdictions, says Aspin.
Tim Taylor, a spokesman for the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), says the province's first power system supply plan in 20 years is underway and extensive stakeholder consultation is being encouraged.
Starting in May and continuing into the fall, the Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP) will examine all the physical constraints to making power connections for wind turbine opportunities.
The plan will also project Ontario's medium- and long-term electricity needs and develop a guide for capital investment decisions, including transmission infrastructure development.
"We will be examining transmission barriers and will be actively seeking input from people who are impacted by those barriers."
Approval of that plan by the Ontario Energy Board could take up to a year before government policy direction is given. But the plan is to be updated every three years.
Taylor agrees with AIM PowerGen, that there's little reason to forge ahead with many of Ontario's wind power projects if they can't be connected to the provincial grid. He says that's what the IPSP will address.
Wojick has a hydropower ally in Paul Norris, president of the Ontario Waterpower Association, who says the province must have all in its ministries in step on its renewable energy policy.
But until that energy potential is identified, it's a "chicken-and-egg" scenario on whether to develop the transmission infrastructure first to attract private investment or vice versa.
"I can understand his (Terry's) frustration for an individual out there trying to bring in new renewable energy to help the government meet their targets. He's coming up against this absolute impediment around being unable to get his electricity out."
Norris says there's more than 50 MW worth of hydroelectric potential in northeastern Ontario. Overall in Northern Ontario, there is as much as 4,000 MW to 5,000 MW, particularly in the Moose River basin.
"Transmission goes hand-in-hand with new generation, particularly for wind and water," says Norris. "It's absolutely essential that you have the two married to have a cohesive policy going forward."
By IAN ROSS
Northern Ontario Business
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|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2006|
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