Ontario’s Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, at the launch of planning for the next Long-Term Energy Plan, said “We have a robust supply of all forms of energy for at least the next 10 years.” The month prior to the launch he announced the suspension of LRP II slated to acquire another 1,000 MW of renewable energy. His claim at that time was, it would save ratepayers $3.8 billion in electricity costs over the projected term of the contracts.
Cancel the contracts
Why didn’t he go further and cancel contracts that have not broken ground and saved billions more? Amherst Island’s “Windlectric” project, owned by Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., project is just one. On its own, cancellation could save Ontario ratepayers over $500 million in future costs. Those contracts, signed years ago, either have not been built or are involved in litigation preventing them from breaking ground. Their sunk costs are small in comparison to their full costs over 20 years and canceling them outright would represent a nominal cost to ratepayers while saving, birds, bats, butterflies and endangered species from harm as well as prevent human health effects, and depreciation to property values.
Cancellation would reduce the amount of surplus energy that is exported at a cost to ratepayers or simply curtailed, but paid for by ratepayers. Savings would be in the billions.
Amherst Island—Owl Capital of North America
In the July/August 2003 copy of “Wildbird”, Kevin T. Karlson wrote this article “Owl Capital of North America.” and said “An occasional glance at these ‘owls in wonderland’ always brings a smile to my face.” The Owl Woods is the only place where it is possible to see ten species of owls in one day.
Amherst Island, 66 square kilometers in size, is situated west of Kingston along the northeastern shore of Lake Ontario close to the St. Lawrence River and considered a “Hidden Cultural Gem.” The island is the first of the world famous 1,000 islands based on the water flow. The permanent population of about 450 residents swells to over 1,000 during the summer months and attracts visitors from all over the world. People come to see the culture and history of a settlement dating back to the late 1700s by the Empire Loyalists and the Irish immigrants who followed. Many also come to see the birds as the island is on the IBAs (Important Bird Areas) list. Amherst Island is home to “as many as 34 different species at risk known to rely on the Island’s natural environment for survival.” including the threatened Blandings turtle.
The foregoing paragraph should make the reader wonder exactly why, back in 2011 the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) granted the contract to a shell company (Windlectric) established by Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. Subsequent to the contract award the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), since relabeled the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), granted a Renewable Energy Approval (REA) with some modifications to the original contract. One wonders why the REA was granted as Amherst Island was already designated as an IBA and known as the Owl Capital of North America. Was it simply because the OPA (now merged with IESO [Independent Electricity System Operator]) gave them a contract, or was the MOECC unconcerned about the heritage of the island and the many species at risk?
For over 10 years, residents of Amherst Island and their onshore supporters have battled proposals to blanket the Island with industrial wind turbines. The support received by APAI (Association to Protect Amherst Island) has been overwhelming coming from many different groups and individuals, including those who support wind power as renewable energy. Among them are Nature Canada and Ontario Nature who jointly wrote an 18-page letter to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in March, 2013. Their logical defence of wildlife had no effect on the outcome of the appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal.
In fact, the decision of the Tribunal in August of 2015 was a major failure according to Nature Canada: “The Amherst decision is a reminder that we are missing adequate government policy that both promotes renewables in the right places while recognizing and protecting our key biodiversity areas including Canada’s nearly 600 Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBAs) such as Amherst Island and the South Shore of Prince Edward County.”
Organizations as diverse as Heritage Canada The National Trust, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Kingston Field Naturalists, the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland, BirdLife International, the Maryland Ornithological Society, the Hawk Migration Association of North America, Pennsylvania Ornithological Society, and Brereton Field Naturalists’ Club all oppose turbines on Amherst Island.
The Windlectric project proposes 26 wind turbines with a capacity of 74.3 MW and according to the specifications, would be Siemens turbines each with a total height in excess of 500 feet with a hub height of about 330 feet and a blade radius of almost 180 feet. If they generate electricity at the anticipated norm of 30% of capacity, they will produce about 195,000 megawatts (MWh) intermittently and out of synch with Ontario demand. Windlectric will be paid $135 per/MWh plus cost of living benefits up to 20% more, so as much as $162 per/MWh in the latter years of their contract term. At an average of $140 per/MWh, the gross revenue to Windlectric will be $27.3 million annually, or about $550 million over the life of the contract.
Loyalist Township, where Amherst Island is located, was obligated to allow the Windlectric project to proceed because the Green Energy Act in 2009 stripped all municipalties’ local land use planning powers as regards an energy project. The best the township could do was reach agreement on a “Community Benefit Fund” for an annual payment of approximately $520K. Added to that will be realty taxes of around $240K. Ontario limits the assessed value of wind turbines to only $40K per MW. The assessed value of the 26 turbines will be less than $3 million, but their capital cost is over $200 million.
All-in, the township will get about $760K annually — 2.8% of the revenue to Windlectric. Obviously, the contributions Algonquin Power and other large renewable energy companies gave to the Ontario Liberal Party were worth the money.
So, Ontario has a “robust supply” of electricity, wind turbines will harm the 34 endangered species, and we are exporting surplus generation at pennies on the dollar while curtailing wind, spilling hydro and steaming off nuclear energy. Ontario doesn’t need the intermittent power from the turbines on Amherst Island. We don’t need them in Prince Edward County either (White Pines) (or Dutton-Dunwich, or La Nation, or North Stormont). The Minister should demonstrate that he means what he said recently in North Bay: “There are some families in this province that are struggling to meet their energy bills. It’s why I’ve recognized and the premier has recognized that we need to do more …That is why we’re making sure we can find ways to reduce bills. Everything is on the table within reason.”
The Minister has an opportunity to save ratepayers $1 billion dollars in future rate increases by simply canceling the Amherst Island Windlectric project and the Prince Edward County White Pines project, to name two.
He should take it.