by SUSAN MANN
People have until Aug. 3 to submit comments to the Ontario Power Authority about its proposed rate cut for energy production from ground-mounted solar installations in the micro feed-in-tariff (microFIT) program.
The Ontario government announced July 2 the rate paid for electricity from ground-mounted, solar-energy production systems would be 58.8 cents a kilowatt under microFIT, a 27 per cent cut from the original price of 80.2 cents a kilowatt. The program provides compensation and a fast-tracked approval process to power generation projects of 10 kilowatts or less.
The province is proposing to apply the new fee to applications submitted but not yet approved. At the time the cut was announced, more than 16,000 applications for consideration under the microFIT program had been submitted, the bulk of which were for ground-mounted solar projects. The 80.2 cents a kilowatt still remains for rooftop projects in the microFIT program.
Groups, such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Solar Industries Association, are opposed to the proposed cut. There’s also an online petition, sponsored by Sentinel Solar and others in the industry. As of Tuesday, there were 3,243 visitors to the site and 1,314 people filled out the petition, it says on the site. People have until today to fill it out.
The price cut would affect nearly 70 per cent of all applicants, it says on the petition site. “As if the rate change was not bad enough, the applicants who in good faith applied for contracts as far back as January are going to be retroactively affected by the change should it be adopted.”
Elizabeth McDonald, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, says they’ll be submitting economic information to the OPA from their members that’s way more detailed than the OPA’s. She says they’re opposed to any type of retroactive price changes. “It just sends a terrible signal to the market overall.”
OFA says in a letter to Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid that a mid-project price switch means a serious financial loss for many farmers. “The manufacturers and distributors of solar equipment are already reporting order cancellations, project stoppages and significant financial hardship.”
The Federation is calling on the minister to honour the originally promised price of 80.2 cents a kilowatt for the electricity and to honour the terms already agreed to for solar energy production.
OFA vice president Don McCabe says a public meeting in Vaughn last week held to discuss the proposed price cut and sponsored by the Ontario Solar Network was effective in ensuring many voices from various segments of the industry were able to outline impacts.
McCabe says the proposed price cut “is a violation of the principles that were in the Green Energy Act in the first place.”
Ben Chin, Ontario Power Authority vice-president of community relations and communications, says what he heard at the Vaughn public meeting was consistent with people’s comments during the OPA’s web-enabled seminars held earlier this month. “Primarily when you have a new price category for ground mounted, people are going to question the price.”
There were also questions about whether there were enough consultations before the announcement, he says.
Jacob Travis of Ontario Solar Network, organizer of the meeting, couldn't be reached for comment. Messages on his two cells phones Tuesday said the message boxes were full and no further messages could be left.
Chin notes the OPA can do better in being transparent and “involving people in decision-making.” But the challenge for the organization is “when we sit across the table from generators we represent people who pay the (electricity) bills in Ontario. When we do that we want to be careful not to send a signal about what may happen when we sit down at that table.”
OPA can’t signal what necessarily may happen, he says, because they’re protecting the ratepayers’ interests and not because they’re trying to keep information from people.
On the petition web site it says the OPA’s proposed rate cut has already sent ripples of uncertainty and disappointment through the industry. But Chin says there are many rooftop and ground-mounted projects already completed as part of the micro feed-in-tariff program (projects of 10 kilowatts or less), and lots of applications still pending. People are resubmitting applications for other projects even with the proposed price change.
Chin says he understands people have strong emotions about money matters and they “want to win the day” in terms of their argument but questions the claim there’s uncertainty about where the program is headed. He notes that so far the OPA has contracted 2,500 megawatts or renewable energy projects in Ontario and issued 4,000 conditional offers for ground-mounted and roof-top projects.
Comments to the OPA can be sent by mail (post marked no later than Aug. 3) to: Ontario Power Authority, 120 Adelaide Street West, Suite 1600, Toronto, Ontario, M5H 1T1 (Attention: Ground Mounted Solar PV) or by email to: MicroFIT@powerauthority.on.ca . BF