National Farmers Union Region 3 (Ontario)
June 2010 Statement on Renewable Energy and the Ontario Green Energy Act
The National Farmers Union supports the production of energy from renewable, sustainable sourcesincluding solar, wind, and low-impact hydro to help conserve the remaining fossil fuel supply and tominimize the environmental impacts of energy extraction and production. We believe the productionof renewable energy must be under the control and ownership of farmers, rural communities and thebroader public. The development of energy resources should not be left under the control ofmultinational corporations or private interests. We are opposed to the development of new nuclearplants due to the environmental costs associated with the storage of radioactive waste.
We recognize that fossil fuel resources are being rapidly depleted and that there will likely be a peak orplateau sometime between now and 2030. Fossil fuel resources are used not only for transportation, theproduction of farm inputs and in farm machinery, but also for the production of electricity.
We support the Feed-In Tariffs, as long as they are used to maximize benefits to farmers and ruralcommunities.
Our perspective on Renewable Energy Production in Ontario:
Conservation Must Come First:
Although one of the goals of the Ontario Green Energy Act is to create a culture of conservation, this isnot the first priority nor the main goal of the act. Instead, the focus of the act is on the production of energy, albeit through the production of ‘green’ energy like wind, solar, hydro and biogas. If conservation of energy was made a top priority, our need to produce more and more energy woulddecrease. A decrease in the production and extraction of energy, including electricity and fossil fuels,would help lessen the many negative environmental, health, and social impacts of energy productionand extraction.
Creating a culture of energy conservation requires a multifaceted approach. The NFU has manypolicies that although not directly related to renewable energy, if implemented would lead to areduction in energy use, for example, increased public transportation, increased use of rail to movecargo, more widespread adoption of organic and low-input farming practices and the development oftrue local food systems.
The Government of Ontario needs to make conservation the first priority within the Green Energy Actand within the government as a whole. There needs to be much more research and more incentives to conserve electricity and fossil fuels, to both address the environmental and social impacts of theirproduction and distribution and the depletion of oil and gas reserves.
− the Government of Ontario needs to acknowledge that peak oil concerns are credible, and with
this acknowledgement make energy conservation a top priority.
− the Government of Ontario needs to do research on how to re-orient food, agriculture and trade
policies to conserve energy in all its forms and to address the depletion of fossil fuels
The NFU supports Feed-In Tariffs (FITs). FITs offer opportunities for non-corporate projects.Cooperatives and other community-based projects would have a hard time competing with corporategiants in preparing competitive bids without the standing offer of a fixed price for electricity to begenerated over the long-term. NFU policy states that FITs must be applied so that farmers and rural communities benefit. The Feed-In Tariff prices offered at this time by the Ontario Power Authorityoffer additional benefits to small-scale renewable energy projects through higher prices for microFITsand other small projects. In addition, there is a price adder for projects that are genuine community-based projects. Small scale photo voltaic projects, which come under microFIT programs, as well aslarger biogas facilities, have the most potential to remain under the control of farmers and ruralcommunities.
However, the microFIT program is also creating what some have called a ‘wild west’ scenario across rural Ontario, especially for solar photo voltaic units. With so many companies jumping into the smallscale solar industry, farmers need much more information on how to decide which companies arelegitimate, which companies are likely to survive in the long-term to provide necessary maintenance,repair and upgrade of solar panels, and how to determine which companies are providing qualityequipment and connections.
Small scale projects, including community-based initiatives and farmer-controlled projects, are findingit difficult to access funding.
The Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure should:− compile information to help farmers and others make informed decisions about reliable photovoltaic units; − look at licensing or registering companies selling solar photo voltaic units and other farm-sizedequipment; − improve the availability of funding for small-scale, community-based projects.
Ontario Green Energy Act Approvals Process:
Most large scale wind and solar projects will be erected in rural communities. Under the Green EnergyAct, large scale solar projects are no longer allowed on class 1 and 2 farmland, a regulation the NFU supports. However, since wind turbines do not use a significant amount of land, most wind turbines arebeing erected on farm land, and therefore, in rural communities. Wind turbines tend to be erected as ‘wind farms’ with a number of large turbines on neighbouring farms. With a few exceptions, windfarms in Ontario are being erected by large energy companies, often from outside Ontario or withbacking from outside the province.
The approvals process of the Green Energy Act facilitates the loss of farmer and rural communitycontrol over what happens in our communities, especially in relation to industrial wind developments.
Community Consultation Process: The public consultation required under the Renewable EnergyApproval process for larger wind or solar projects is intended to ‘help build local support’ for the project. There is little opportunity through the mandated public consultation process for communitymembers to jointly discuss the pros and cons of the proposed project or to jointly address how they willbe impacted by the project. Farmers and rural residents who have legitimate concerns about the impactof industrial wind developments in their backyards find this pseudo-consultation demeaning.
The Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure needs to:
− change the goals and process of the community consultation requirement of the Green Energy
Act. The goal of community consultation needs to be not just to build local support for the
project, but to acknowledge community concerns and to provide mechanisms to address those
concerns. When concerns are brought forward, the developers must be required to detail how
they will deal with those concerns to the satisfaction of the community. There must be a
possibility of a project not proceeding if the community does not feel their concerns have been
− require that the consultations be led by trained, independent facilitators who are able to bring
out a discussion of both the pros and cons of the proposed project;
− find a means to better address community and public concerns about future health issues related
to the generation of renewable energy.
Municipal Authority: The approvals process that came into effect with the passage of the GreenEnergy Act, gives all control over the approval of renewable energy projects, whether those be small orlarge to the province. Municipalities, and thus communities, no longer have any control over siting,land use planning, zoning or other community impacts.
In the past rural municipalities, like Wolfe Island and Melancthon, were able to negotiate amenityagreements with industrial wind developers which acknowledged the impact of large-scale windturbines on the broader community. These types of amenity agreements are no longer possible becauserural municipalities and rural communities no longer have any real power to negotiate with largeenergy companies.
Options must be available to acknowledge the impact of large-scale renewable energy projects on thewider community and provide benefits and compensation to the community, not just to winddevelopers and individual farmers.
The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure
− must return planning, permitting and zoning powers to municipalities so that the wider
community has the opportunity to address its broader concerns and negotiate for changes that
more fully address the community concerns and/or provide full community compensation.
Domestic Content Requirements:
We support this portion of the green energy act and would like to see the domestic contentrequirements for all renewable energy projects, small or large, move towards 75% Canadian content so that the jobs and the profits stay in Ontario. We would like to see many of these manufacturing jobs created in rural communities. In addition, we recognize the need to have equipment which is well-designed and well-built and recognize it may take time to develop this expertise in Ontario, so thereneeds to be time to move towards 75% Canadian content.
Farmers erecting microFITs on their farms must have reliable units, including microFIT solar photovoltaic units are well designed and well built. If there is not sufficient quality units that meet the 60%Ontario content by the end of 2010 we would like to see a relaxation of the domestic content time line.However, we full support the move to the 60% Ontario content for solar units and down the road we would like to see 75% Canadian content for all renewable energy projects.
Control and Ownership of Renewable Energy Production and Distribution:
The NFU believes renewable energy projects must be owned and controlled by local communities andthat the profits and benefits of such projects must go to the community and the public at large.Through the Green Energy Act, as it now stands, industrial wind developers have the potential to takethe control and majority of the benefits of a rural resource, wind, away from farmers and ruralcommunities. Although there are a few community-based cooperative renewable energy projects, themajority of the renewable energy production projects already operating or being erected in the provinceare owned and operated by private, energy corporations whose decisions are driven primarily by profit.
Ontario’s electricity system was developed for the benefit of the people of Ontario, through publicownership of the production and distribution of electrical power. Along with the public ownership of the electrical system, electricity was sold to consumers at cost. In order to facilitate the development ofrenewable energy, the Green Energy Act increases the cost of electricity to consumers by offeringcontracts for renewable power that are far above the amount we now pay for electricity. This continues the move away from ‘at-cost’ hydro, the practice on which Ontario’s electrical generation and distribution system was built.
Smaller scale microFIT projects being erected by farmers themselves can be seen as part of the movetowards privatization of energy production. However, as these small projects are more likely to remainunder the control of farmers and rural communities we support individual generation for personal useand for sales back to the grid.
The continuing trend to open the doors to large, private renewable energy producers brings with it arisk that most of the financial benefits of renewable energy production will leave the province, ratherthan stay in our communities to the benefit of farmers, workers and eaters.
Endnote: This statement on renewable energy and the Green Energy Act is based on NFU nationalpolicy and on policy resolutions passed at the Region 3 (Ontario) Convention in March 2010. The Ontario Regional Council, Ontario NFU Locals and NFU members are continuing to research anddiscuss the implications, including health impacts, of the Green Energy Act and the production anddistribution of renewable energy on farmers and rural communities. This research and discussion is likely to lead to additional policies and position statements from the NFU on the production anddistribution of renewable energy in Ontario.