by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Hydro One recently began notifying participants in its popular micro feed-in-tariff program that their request to connect has been declined.
“There are parts of the province where the program has been really popular and there have been some capacity constraints,” says Daniele Gauvin, a spokesperson for Hydro One which serves many of the province’s rural communities.
Don McCabe, a vice president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture says he’s heard about five per cent of all microFIT projects are affected. He’s not sure where the problems are taking place. “It’s too early to say definitively.” McCabe blames provincial infrastructure that’s 70 years old. “It’s getting pretty darn tired,” he says.
He says there is commitment from the provincial energy ministry to put money towards Hydro One to resolve the problem “within the immediate year.”
McCabe says some participants are now stuck making payments for solar equipment without any way of recouping their money. “We’ve got to take a serious look at how fast we can prioritize some of these jobs to get Hydro One back on-stream to complete some of these connections.”
Gauvin says Hydro One is working with the Ontario Power Authority and other local distribution companies to create a list “to identify where those constrained connection points are in the province and to identify where there’s demand for more capacity.”
How much it would cost to make the upgrades will depend on the list and the types of investments that will be required, she says.
Gauvin could not identify where were problems were located. “That’s part of our fist step, which is to do an assessment.” She did not know when the assessment will be finished. In the meantime, “we’re continuing to connect,” she says.
Joe Botscheller is a former tobacco grower near Simcoe and a director of Farmers for Economic Opportunity, a company created by former tobacco growers to promote green energy production as an alternative crop in the Norfolk, Haldimand and Elgin region. He says he’s heard there are concerns about delays in connecting to the grid.
“It’s helter skelter,” he says, adding there are no problems locally. “Where we are here in Norfolk County is a fairly good grid system because of all of the tobacco that was here at one time and all of the dryers that we had.”
McCabe says it’s too soon to gauge the impact on affected applicants. “We need to collect enough data to find out what the range of problems are out there,” he says.
In a Feb. 11 email, Tim Butters, a spokesperson with the Ontario Power Authority, urges those whose wait might push them past the program’s deadlines for meeting lower domestic content requirements, to contact the authority, “so we can review the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
Under the program, solar systems initially had to have at least 40 per cent domestic content if it began to operate commercially by 2010 and 60 per cent if it reached that point in 2011 or later. In November, the authority extended the lower domestic content requirement to May 31, 2011 for all ground-mounted solar applications submitted before noon on July 2, 2010.
Since it was introduced in 2009 as part of Ontario’s Green Energy Act, microFIT has faced enormous challenges. The program targets homeowners, farmers, small businesses and institutions by offering 20-year contracts with special rates to produce green energy from sources such as solar systems.
By last spring, applications had swamped the authority, which administers the program, and delayed approvals. Most were for solar systems because the authority had set a payment rate of 80.2 cents a kilowatt.
In August 2010 the authority changed the rate for ground-mounted solar projects to 64.2 cents per kWh. Brad Duguid, provincial minister of energy and infrastructure, said the change in price corrected a loophole within the program for applicants to earn an “exorbitant” return on their investment. The original rate still applied to roof top solar systems.
In December the authority once again changed the rules, this time requiring applicants who submitted from Dec. 8 onwards to obtain connection guarantees from their local power distribution companies before it issued conditional approval for their projects. Previously, applicants could obtain the conditional approval first. A February notice on the authority’s website explained that the change was made “to ensure that potential connection issues are identified as early as possible in the application and contracting processes and will better align projects with available connection capacity.”
Butters says to date, 3,700 projects have connected to the province’s electrical grid under the microFIT program. “An additional 2,500 projects have been given approval by Hydro One to connect but have not yet connected,” he writes.
As of Feb. 4, the authority has received 25,245 microFIT applications and issued 19,651 conditional offers. About 99 per cent of the projects are for solar systems, Butters states. BF
Get Offer to Connect Before You Build FIT or microFIT System
Hydro One’s website spells it out. Don’t spend any money on your
Ontario Power Authority approved FIT or microFIT system until you get
an Offer to Connect from Hydro One. “Applicants who incur costs
related to their proposed project without an Offer to Connect in
their possession,” the website says, “incur those costs at their own
The warning comes too late for a number of Hydro One customers who
have invested thousands in systems only to find they cannot finish
the final step, a hookup into the grid, because they don’t have an
Offer to Connect and may not be able to get one if Hydro One
infrastructure in their area will not take the extra load.
To get an Offer to Connect, or find whether that’s even possible, go
to the Hydro One website and complete Hydro One’s Micro-Generation
Connection Application Form (Form C) and submit it to the Business
Customer Centre by email, mail or fax.