IT is unbelievable but it is true. On its first day at work Wednesday, the new Ontario government announced cancellation of a wind energy project in Prince Edward County. It didn’t just cancel a plan, it cancelled a project so close to completion that one of nine turbines is up, foundations for the other eight are laid, roads are built and contractors are booked to completion. There are 100 employees on site.
Wind Pines Wind president Ian MacRae wasn’t the only one to immediately think Gas Plants 2.0 — the fiasco that plagued the former Liberal government until its end.
This decision is the same in some ways, and it is different in others. The Liberals cancelled gas plants that were under construction as a way to secure the votes of opponents in the ridings involved. It cost them millions in cancellation fees and most independent observers knew the decision for what it was — a crass political move to try to win an election.
The new Conservative government cancelled the wind project under construction as a reward to voters in the ridings involved who helped them get elected. It could cost taxpayers more than $100 million to cancel it in a legal battle the Tories are already trying to forestall. And observers see another example of the Doug Ford government acting hastily and rashly. Did the Conservatives learn nothing from the so-called “gas plants scandal” for which they hammered the Liberals for years? Apparently not.
The decision belongs to new Tory house leader Todd Scott who’d heard opposition from voters in his Prince Edward County riding. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell White Pines Wind which learned of the decision when a reporter called on Wednesday. It seems the Tories’ antipathy to all things green energy knows no bounds.
MacRae immediately warned Scott and the government of the ramifications of what is “clearly a breach of the contract.” He put the potential cost to Ontario at “well in excess of $100 million,” apparently what the company will have spent by the time it ends the project near the shore of Lake Ontario.
For its part, the government is claiming a breach of is own, by the Independent Electricity System Operator which it says should not have issued final approval for the project during the election campaign in May.
It would seem that MacRae’s analysis is closer to the truth. Given that the project is nearly a decade old, and nearly complete, he calls the IESO’s “notice to proceed” a housekeeping document confirming White Pines had met all of the requirements.
Nevertheless, the government claims cancellation will actually save ratepayers money in the long run by not having to pay for “over-priced” electricity generated by wind turbines. Furthermore, the government “will be taking action through legislation to insulate itself from any domestic litigation,” said government spokesman Simon Jefferies. Who knew that a government could avoid being sued even before being sued for activity approved by an agency appointed by cabinet? The courts will have a field day.
This brings to mind Horizon Wind’s Big Thunder project on Thunder Bay’s Nor’Wester mountains. The company, opposed by some area residents, went through the costly approvals process only to be advised, eight years later, that the project didn’t comply with provincial regulations around impacts of 16 turbines on moose and moose habitat. Horizon later filed a $50 million lawsuit against the province. White Pines may be next in line.