Ontario’s Offshore Moratorium

On February 11, 2011, late in the day, Ontario announced it was initiating a moratorium on all offshore wind energy projects.  For Ontario this would include all projects in the Great Lakes along with smaller freshwater bodies.  The announcement was quite a surprise to proponents and opponents alike, and was almost certainly timed to get buried by Mubarek’s stepping down in Egypt earlier that same day.  Since stories about the moratorium appeared in 10 of the leading Canadian news outlets I don’t think their plan worked very well.

Their Reasons

The two MPP’s most involved with the announcement of the moratorium were Brad Duguid, Minister of Energy, and John Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment.  They both were stressing that the science surrounding the installation of wind turbines wasn’t complete enough to allow them to go ahead.  Duguid mentioned that the moratorium would likely last about two years while the needed studies were being done.  Assuming they actually believe the official line themselves, they seem to be the only two people in the world who do.

Some History

Ontario first placed a moratorium on wind turbines in the Lakes in 2006.  That moratorium was lifted in 2008, with the then-Minister of the Environment, Donna Cansfeld, saying they then had enough information to proceed.  Now it is three years later, and all of a sudden they don’t.  Duguid was quoted as saying they might lift the moratorium in two years.

The Effects

Duguid went out of his way to mention that only 5 out of the 250 applications for wind energy projects (out of 1,500 total projects) were offshore.  What he didn’t mention was that just one of these, Wolfe Island Shoals, represents 300 out of the 1530 MW’s currently contracted for.  And what happens to Shoals?  “We are aware of the Ontario government’s announcement on offshore wind and we are examining all of our options.”  I’m sure they are.

A larger effect may be the also-announced suspension of micro-FIT applications.  Something like 1,000 people have put down payments on solar panels and built foundations for these panels in anticipation of selling electricity to the grid at very favorable rates.  Perhaps the Liberals didn’t think the rural vote was very important to them.

Their Real Reasons

As every one of the news articles mentioned, almost certainly this was a political decision, designed to save incumbent Liberals’ seats in the upcoming election.  One of those seats could well be Duguid’s, as his riding is Scarsborough Centre, within a short distance of the proposed Scarsborough Bluffs offshore wind energy project.  There’s a pattern here.  In 2010 the Oakville Gas Plant was canceled with the stated reason being that Ontario didn’t need the generation.  But if that were true, why would Ontario continue to build very expensive and not very effective wind turbines?  Or did Kevin Flynn’s seat have anything to do with it?

There’s also precedent for the timing with respect to the elections.  The previous moratorium was started by the Liberals in November of 2006, just about coincident with the municipal elections of November 13, 2006.  The next year the provincial elections, on October 10, 2007 (in the lowest turnout in Ontario history) handed the Liberals a large majority in Parliament.  Three months later in January 2008, with the elections safely behind them, the Liberals ended the moratorium.  No wonder their motives are suspect.

Other speculations include the ongoing court challenges, and my own that the Federal government was threatening to make a hash of the Shoals project.  Or maybe one of John Harrison’s letters finally got to someone in the MOE.

The Reactions

Predictably, the political opposition lost no time in assailing the ruling Liberals.  Wind energy proponents were surprised and generally dismayed.  Wind energy opponents were generally cautiously encouraged, although everybody pretty much agrees that if the Liberals survive the upcoming election the moratorium will be quickly reversed yet again and the Great Lakes will again be at risk.

Backups

In case any of the links above go dead, here’s backups of everything.

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