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Ford government spending $231M to cancel renewable energy projects

Last Updated Nov 19, 2019 at 7:20 pm EST

The Ford government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars this year to tear down or cancel 751 renewable energy projects around the province, according to documents obtained by CityNews.

“Last year, this government insisted that there would be no cost to cancelling renewable energy projects like the White Pines Wind Farm,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in the legislature Tuesday.

For the White Pines Wind Farm project in Prince Edward County, the Ontario government is on the hook for an estimated $141 million. The company had signed a 20-year contract to provide the province with renewable energy.

At the project, located two hours east of Toronto, cranes started arriving last month to tear down 100-metre-tall wind turbines that were just built and ready to be switched on. The project was more than a decade in the making and was expected to produce enough energy to power more than 60,000 homes over the length of its contract.

While planning for many of the 751 cancelled projects was well underway, they had not hit key construction milestones. The White Pines project is unique in that construction began in 2017 and the turbines are ready to go.

Outside the town of Milford, nine wind turbines — four fully constructed and five more partially so —  are coming down. They are a casualty of the White Pines Wind Project Termination Act, a bill that was passed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government just weeks after coming into office.

The government won’t say how much this decommissioning is costing but based on publicly-available documents showing wind power rates, and the project’s generating capacity, CityNews has calculated the province would owe the provider more than $7 million per year of the contract, or just over $141 million over 20 years.

The total cost of all the cancelled renewable energy projects around the provinces is $231 million in 2018-2019, according to the Public Accounts of Ontario.

A map of the nine windmills that will be torn down as a part of the cancellation of the White Pines Windmill Project.

CityNews has been investigating the costs of decommissioning the projects for weeks. In that time, the government declined to say how much cancelling the White Pines Wind Project would cost taxpayers.

On Tuesday, associate minister of energy Bill Walker would again not confirm the figure in Question Period. Neither would Energy Minister Greg Rickford when he was asked by CityNews earlier this week.

However, an email obtained by CityNews shows that Rickford’s office did confirm to researchers at Queen’s Park that the $231 million was indeed to wind down wind projects. After Question Period on Tuesday, Walker confirmed the figure.

In a one-on-one interview with Rickford, the minister told CityNews that the government’s plan was on track.

“We’re making sure this is entirely consistent with the plan. Sometimes costs upfront will save us down the road — that’s the way we looked at the risks with the 750 projects in total,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Tabuns likened the cancellations to the Liberal’s cancellation of gas plants in 2010.

“The similarities are striking,” he said. “We saw what the Liberal government did to hydro bills and now Premier Ford is doing the same thing at the same time as he’s letting hydro prices increase.”

Walker responded that White Pines and the other 750 renewable energy projects weren’t necessary.

“Our government has been very clear that it would act to cancel any unnecessary contracts. Ontario has an adequate supply of power right now,” he said.

The government also said the move will eventually save taxpayers money.

“Any of the projects that we cancelled were going to cost our system more money over the long haul than the ratepayer was prepared to pay,” Rickford said. “Extraordinarily high-priced projects, like wind power and solar, were not making us competitive. They needed to be dealt with.”

The government estimates the cancellations will save $790 million in the long term, but couldn’t tell CityNews how much had been spent to date in settling those contracts, despite repeated requests or how much the government was saving by cancelling the White Pines contract.

“Those costs are ongoing, the project is in the process of decommissioning. I don’t see any red flags there,” Rickford told CityNews.

CityNews has confirmed that a negotiated settlement has been reached with WPD Canada, the Mississauga company that owns the White Pines turbines. Company spokesperson Ian McCrae would not disclose details of the settlement between the government and WPD shareholders. In the past, company officials have confirmed that it is upwards of $100 million.

The opposition are also arguing that the PC government — which is currently fighting federal climate legislation in court — has another motivation for cancelling the renewable energy projects.

“The government needs to be honest with people about their politically-motivated campaign of literally ripping turbines out of the ground,”  Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said. “It’s going to cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. […] I don’t think tax payers want their money wasted.”

“I don’t believe that they don’t have the information about how much its going to cost,” Tabuns said. “But this is a government that never cares particularly about cost when it comes to pursuing their anti-climate change agenda.”

Tabuns believes that, like the Liberal gas plant scandal, this cancellation will result in an investigation by the auditor-general, something CityNews has heard from other sources involved in the file.

“It’s contrary to the interests of people’s pocket books, their lungs and the environment,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe that the auditor-general won’t follow up.”

“This is heartbreaking.”

When asked about the cost of cancellations, Walker said the White Pines community never wanted the windmills and they were imposed by the previous Liberal government.

“We knew that from Day 1, they knew that from Day 1, and they continued to impose these on unwilling hosts like White Pines was,” he said.

The Milford windmills have been controversial in the community. However, locals whose land the turbines are on are upset to see the project scrapped.

“This is heartbreaking, this has been years and years of building a project that’s being cancelled for absolutely no good reason,” Jennifer Ackerman, who has a turbine on her property, said. “All those years of putting it up to say ‘Oh, its up, and let’s tear it all down.’ The environmental impact of that and nothing gained. Nothing.”

Ackerman is one of several area residents who were heavily lobbying for the turbines, which is located not too far from the shores of Lake Ontario.

“I believe in renewable energy. The science is there, it’s a fact Jack, that we’ve got to get away from fossil fuels and this is the way to do it,” added area resident Anne McIntosh.

Jennifer Ackerman looks at the windmill built on her property in Milford that will soon be torn down as a part of the cancellation of the White Pines Windmill Project. CITYNEWS/Cristina Howorun.

Ackerman is still being compensated for the lease of her land, as are the other land owners. “Twenty-thousand dollars a year, approximately, for 20 years. Do the math and we’re getting paid well,” she said. The total would be approximately $400,000.

Ackerman adds: “The amount hasn’t changed with the turbines being cancelled.”

She’s now getting paid in two lump sums — one when the turbines come down, and another when the decommissioning is fully complete. Removing the concrete, with winter on the horizon, could take upwards of a year.

According to terms reached with the government, the company has three years to fully restore the site. It is anticipated the wind turbines and towers will sit on the ground until next spring.

“I’m not saying I don’t appreciate some money and the revenue was looking great,” Ackerman said. “But given the choice between the money and the wind farm? I want the wind farm.”