offshore wind development A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Photo © chungking \ Fotolia.com

When travelling throughout Southern Ontario this summer one can’t help but notice the proliferation of wind turbines. After the Green Energy Act and the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program were enacted in 2009, large scale wind farms sprang up across the province driven by a desire to increase clean, renewable energy in the supply mix. You may also notice the growing discontent in communities near turbines. Anti-wind billboards and driveway signs are becoming increasingly common in many towns located near energy projects.

As noted in Thomas Walkom’s recent article in the Toronto Star, municipal anger has boiled over and the provincial Liberals’ rural support has dwindled to virtual non-existence. The government belatedly decided to change the rules in late May, granting municipalities the ability to comment on proposed wind farms and receive tax revenue from them. However, the damage has been done, and many town councils, such as Kincardine, have passed motions declaring their communities unwilling hosts for additional wind farms. Looking ahead to 2014, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has 26 large-scale wind farms scheduled to come online without feedback from the host municipalities. Opposition efforts to take the matter to the Environmental Review Tribunal have been met with defeat, further inflaming rural residents.

This summer the Ministry of Energy will begin public consultations for its Long-Term Energy Plan, but given that many Ontarians are vacationing the timing is questionable. Under the 2010 plan, wind energy was expected to generate 10 per cent of Ontario’s electricity by 2030, about 19.6 terawatt hours. Given the current political climate and anti-wind sentiments, it will be difficult for the government to move ahead with its proposals.

A compromise that would allow the province to meet its wind energy targets and avoid NIMBY-ism would require the lifting of the 2011 moratorium on offshore wind turbine projects. Despite examples of successful projects in Europe and elsewhere, the Liberals’ decision was never fully explained. Energy and Technology expert Tyler Hamilton wrote recently about the lost opportunities, lawsuits (one for $2.25 billion) and government ineptitude stemming from the moratorium. This summation of the ongoing situation is extremely useful heading into the Long-Term Energy Plan consultations. Hamilton’s column lamented that after the ban on offshore wind, companies such as Siemens left for other jurisdictions. Directly across the border from Ontario, the state of Ohio is "moving to take the lead on this opportunity" and is striving for Lake Erie to turn into the “home to the world’s first offshore wind turbine in fresh water and become a center for wind innovation.”

While Ontario struggles with wind battles on land, Maine has made headlines as the first government to deploy offshore wind in North America. The offshore floating turbine is a prototype meant to collect data to support a $96 million investment for offshore wind, to come online in 2016. Other states are likely to follow suit and this industry will grow exponentially in coming years, much as it has in Europe. According to the European Wind Energy Association’s 2013 annual report, over 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind came online in 2012 alone in waters controlled by the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium and Germany. This chart illustrates the rapid growth that has occurred since 2001.

The offshore wind market appears to be dynamic and evolving quickly. Ontario will need to formulate clear, consistent policy, and quickly, as consultations heat up during the summer months, the anti-wind associations make their case and offshore developers urge the government to lift the moratorium. Permitting offshore wind will eliminate a growing source of public concern about energy and bring a new industry to Ontario. This will be a very interesting summer for energy policy as the government positions itself for a potential fall election campaign.

Read more about resistance to wind turbines in "Killer Turbines?" and "The Nocebo Effect."

Dan is an environmental professional currently living in Toronto. Dan has previously published in Municipal World and Environmental Science and Engineering. He specializes in energy, transportation, and climate change policy, corporate sustainability, and environmental planning and assessments. He recently completed a Masters of Environmental Applied Science and Management at Ryerson University and has a Bachelors' degree in Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. 

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