by SUSAN MANN
Strathroy-area farmer Russell Elliott says Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid’s measures to help rural landowners get their stalled solar MicroFIT projects connected to the electricity grid won’t help him.
Duguid’s Aug. 19 directive enables applicants who received conditional contract offers from the Ontario Power Authority before December 8, 2010, when rules for the MicroFIT (micro feed-in tariff) program were changed, and who can’t connect to the grid at their current location to move their project to a different spot.
Elliott, a cash crop farmer, had had received a conditional offer to buy power from the OPA before the rules changed. He also finished building his 10-kilowatt ground-mounted solar array project in November 2010. Then, in January, he learned Hydro One wouldn’t hook it up to the grid. “I have been sitting in limbo and I can’t even get enough information to make a decision” to tear it down or sell it, he says.
Elliott says he’s not keen to move his solar array. “I’m not able to move it because I only have the one property.” But even if he could move it he questions who will absorb the thousands of dollars it cost for the base and the pole.
Rather than introducing measures enabling people to move their projects, Elliott says OPA should concentrate on ensuring all existing projects get connected. When he built his project, there wasn’t any mention of constraints or the need for applicants to ensure their distribution company will connect their installation before OPA offered a contract and before landowners began construction. That all came later.
Rule changes introduced Dec. 8, 2010 make it mandatory for all MicroFIT applicants to get an offer to connect to the electricity grid from their local distribution company before OPA will issue a conditional contract offer and before they build it.
Elliott is hoping he’ll get connected once the big distribution station, called Longwood Generation Station, in his area gets fixed by next month. “But nobody will tell us.”
Hydro One spokesperson Daniele Gauvin says there are approximately 2,000 people across Ontario waiting for capacity to be installed so they can be connected. Another 4,100 people have their OPA contract and the green light from Hydro One to be connected and will be hooked up based on when they’re ready.
Gauvin says Hydro One is working with OPA and local distribution companies to install additional capacity into the system. Since the spring, Hydro One as been looking at ways to add capacity including upgrading lines, circuits or updating equipment in distribution stations.
“The grid itself can accommodate a certain amount of hookups and carry a certain amount of power and after that you have to add additional equipment to add additional people on the line,” she says.
OPA spokesman Tim Butters says in an email the purpose of the minister’s directive is to establish a framework to enable relocation options. They’re designed to expedite project connections for eligible constrained MicroFIT projects.
The series of relocation options in the directive apply to conditional offer holders who submitted applications before MicroFIT rule changes in December and who are unable to connect at their current location. Butters says it’s too early to tell how many conditional offer holders will use the options to move their projects. But the directive is an important step “to help provide connections to constrained projects.” Anyone with a constrained project wanting to move it has to provide OPA with written notice.
Included in the directive is an option for applicants with more than one project that cannot be connected to the grid to combine and relocate up to 50 constrained projects having a generating capacity of up to 500 kW from the original location to any one new location in Ontario. Applicants can also assign any or all of their conditional offers to another constrained applicant who is either an eligible participant or a co-operative.
Butters says to date, nearly 6,800 MicroFIT projects are operational and receiving payment under the program. Gauvin says 6,000 of those projects are from Hydro One customers. BF