Thursday, November 3, 2011

Green Energy Ontario 2.0: Community Power

With the announcement that the Ontario Power Authority's Feed-in-Tariff Program is currently under review by the Province of Ontario, long-time blog contributor Neil Fairhead explores the value of ensuring that Community Power issues are represented in the discussions.

Now that the most recent Ontario provincial election has passed, it’s probably a good time to reflect on the government’s renewable energy policy and how we ensure it is implemented most usefully for the benefit of all citizens. Given the current economic climate, my main focus is on sustaining local communities. Our current energy system is a relic of the middle of the last century when mass production ruled - large centralized plants delivered large quantities of very similar products. Examples include the big steel mills that dominated Hamilton’s skyline and the Big 3 car plants in places like Oshawa. Even computing was subject to this model as the initial dominant form was the large centralized mainframe. Electricity has predominantly been generated in large centralized plants whether it was hydro, nuclear or coal power.

In many other industries this approach has evolved, most visibly in computing where computing devices are now ubiquitous and linked together by the Internet. Electricity is, to some extent, still battling against the prevailing winds of a more distributed model of supply and generation. We still produce it centrally and distribute it into communities from many miles away. This means that at least 75 cents of each energy dollar leaves the local economy. Less money remains to support local businesses and provide jobs for local people. In addition, the scale of centralized power plants means that only very large corporate- or government-owned entities can build and operate them. The scale drives transmission over distances which increases transmission loss. In the United States, transmission losses are estimated to be between 6 - 7% of all the power put into the grid.

Generating power close to its use reduces the cost of distribution and particularly long-range distribution power losses. It also reduces the risk due to transmission failure. Remember, the Internet was deliberately designed as a network with no single point of failure by providing many alternate routes and having no central control point. Our electricity distribution network is not. Hence, in August 2003, the failure of one generator in the FirstEnergy plant at Eastlake Ohio triggered cascading failures which eventually totaled over 500 generating units at over 250 plants. It reduced the available power by 80% over an area that ran from Sault Ste Marie to James Bay to Newark, New Jersey.

However, just distributing power generation is not enough. All energy generation incurs costs as well as benefits. If the local generator is not locally owned then the community will not get enough of the benefit to put up with its attendant costs. All wind energy projects constitute an economic development opportunity for the communities that surround the project. However, local communities may only see a small portion of the benefits from such investments. It is not uncommon for less than 15% of project-related construction expenditures to remain local. Studies undertaken in Iowa suggest that locally owned wind generation creates up to 10 times more economic activity in the local community than does wind generation owned by out-of-state companies. When the owners are local, they are more likely to purchase local construction materials and hire local residents ensuring profits stay in the community too.

Community Power is a class of sustainable energy projects that are owned, developed and controlled in full or in part (50 per cent or more) by residents of the community in which the project is located. Community Power has spurred the development of renewable energy in Europe. For instance, in the Netherlands 60% of wind turbines are owned by farmers and 5% by communities; in Germany 10& are owned by farmers, while 40% are owned by communities; and finally, in Denmark, 64% are owned by farmers, while 24% are owned by communities.

WindShare Turbine, Exhibition Place, Toronto, Ontario
Ontario initiated its experience with Community Power in 1999, when the first community-owned and North America’s first urban sited wind turbine was envisioned by Windshare (see photo). To date, there have been over 293 applications for Community Power projects under the Ontario Power Authority’s FIT Program, representing over 1,500MW of clean, renewable energy.

However, Community Power does not exist in a vacuum and is clearly in its infancy. On October 31, Energy Minister Chris Bentley confirmed a long-expected review of the FIT Program. Deputy minister Fareed Amin in conjunction with OPA CEO Colin Andersen, will lead the review. Obviously this introduces some uncertainty into the atmosphere and makes it important that supporters of sustainable energy ensure their voices are heard.

One way to learn more about the review, to discuss how to respond and to include your say in a strong and consistent voice is to join the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association for its third annual Community Power Conference. Hear about and discuss the FIT review, Green Energy Ontario 2.0, and receive practical training on how to drive community-led and community-commercial project partnerships.

~ Neil Fairhead

Ontario Sustainable Energy Association
Community Power Conference

November 14th and 15th, 2011
Metro Toronto Convention Centre South, Level 800, Hall G & Room 803
222 Bremner Blvd., Toronto, ON

Monday, October 17, 2011

Canadian Chefs Rally Opposition to Proposed Quarry

What's a successful protest festival without a little rain, wind and mud? Foodstock served up ample portions of all three but managed to keep thousands of attendees warm with hot apple cider, samplings of local fare and a line-up of sizzling live performances. The event was a rally of opposition to the proposed construction of a mega-quarry in this picturesque nook of southern Ontario.

On October 16th, 2011 I joined thousands of other concerned Ontarians on a wooded lot 120 kilometers north of Toronto in Melancthon Township where over 70 members of the Canadian Chefs' Congress had gathered to inspire us with scrumptious recipes designed to celebrate the use of local ingredients. My sampling menu included perch, pulled pork, wild turkey, plenty of beets, crispy apples and parts of the cow that had never touched my lips before. It would be virtually impossible to choose a favourite as all of these offerings were worth waiting for in the lines snaking throughout the woods.

The pay-what-you-can event was in response to a proposal by The Highland Companies, an American-backed entity intent on transforming up to 2,300 acres of prime farmland into one of the largest limestone quarries on the continent. The developer submitted its excavation application to the Government of Ontario in March of this year and has posted this statement on its website.

The limestone is called Amabel dolostone and is particularly valuable as high-quality aggregate, which is used to build highways and other infrastructure. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources published a report last year that stated the province consumes 164 million tonnes of aggregate per year. It is a number that could climb to 186 million tonnes over the next twenty years.

The proposed limestone quarry sits at the headwaters of five rivers. It has been estimated that once active it would require up to 600 million litres of water to be pumped out each day because of the high water table. Moreover, the current remediation proposal calls for the recovered land to be restored to potato farming subject to effective pumping operations lasting in perpetuity. These elements of the proposal have raised serious concerns about the impact of the quarry on Ontario's watershed and nearby farmland. Any negative impact could imperil this land from continuing to grow half of all the potatoes used in the GTA.

In response to the concerns being raised, the Ministry of Natural Resources has taken the unusual step of ordering a full environmental assessment of the project before construction can begin. It is apparently the first of its kind in the history of the Ontario Aggregate Resources Act and could take years to complete. A local MPP has also started questioning the project. In an interview with the Guelph Mercury, Guelph MPP Liz Sandals stated, "I think it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen."

Unfortunately, for the quarry opposition, the Ministry's report has called on industry to seek new sources within 75 km of the GTA. The challenge is that much of the land ringing the city is protected by the Greenbelt Act, 2005 or the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act, 1973. In Melancthon, the land may be valuable from an agricultural perspective but is unprotected by statutes.

Perhaps seeing thousands of people driving hundreds of kilometres for the privilege of stomping through ankle-deep mud will give the developer food for thought. Or perhaps Foodstock will become a recurring celebration of local fare that will allow for urban dwellers to better understand the value this land holds for our nutrition.

Some live video action courtesy of the Toronto Star:


Friday, September 30, 2011

Guest Post: Koenig & Consultants Gaze At Future Solar PV Prices

Koenig & Consultants is a boutique management consulting company based in Toronto and Hamburg with special expertise in the area of Renewable Energy. Their work includes traditional consulting around strategy, marketing and communication for renewable energy companies. Each month they provide a "Chart of the Month" for interested clients, colleagues and friends. This is their September 2011 version. You can reach them at


Price Development of Solar PV, Feed-in Tariffs and Elections

In our last Chart of the Month we claimed that the costs of renewable energy had one direction only: “down, down, down”. This month we’re looking at the consumer end of things. Our chart shows the development of prices for fully installed solar PV systems in Germany and Canada over the last few years. There are two graphs for each country: smaller residential systems (<10kW) aka microFITs and larger systems (> 10kW).

Here are some observations and conclusions:

The general price trend: There is only one trend indeed – down. Germany has been leading that trend which is most likely induced by an incremental and continued reduction of feed-in tariffs. We strongly believe that this trend will continue in the foreseeable future as the technology will advance and the overall efficiency of the technology and the entire industry will increase.

The market and supply effect on price: Solar of course isn’t exempt from global market conditions. In 2007, for example, prices went up due to high global demand for silicon wafers and other components caused by a booming (overheating) world economy.

The prices solar PV owners pay: In 2009 consumers had to pay a premium for smaller systems in Canada. That year the Green Energy and Green Economy Act was launched in Ontario introducing a microFIT rate of 80.2 cents/kWh for small and mostly residential systems up to 10 kW. The providers of systems in the early phases were able to bank in on those tariffs. As more and more competitors enter the field the prices per installed kilowatt capacity are prone to drop significantly in the next few years. Also most residential customers are better informed now and question prices and fees for hardware, service and consulting.

The prices we pay for electricity: Albeit being higher compared with similar feed-in tariff programs around the world for this small system segment, high feed-in tariffs in Ontario were and still are instrumental in attracting Ontarians to a new industry that was previously non–existent. The higher tariffs are, nevertheless, still justifiable due to the local content rules and a lower sun radiation than in most other jurisdictions with similar feed-in tariffs (e.g. Spain or Italy). Currently, the amount of electrical power fed into the grid from microFIT systems has no significant contribution to rising electricity prices for consumers in Ontario. This is a myth and scenario eagerly painted by those presently cashing in on “old energy”.

Crystal Ball I – the future of solar PV in Germany: Prices in Germany have been in free fall over the last years. The phase-out of nuclear power in Germany can have opposite and thus maybe neutralizing effects on prices: Up – as demand for panels, inverters and qualified installers will increase. Down – as the German market will become once again very attractive and increasing efficiencies may be unleashed with increasing government support for solar R&D.

Crystal Ball II – the future of solar PV in Ontario: With renewable energy being a hot topic in the upcoming provincial election in Ontario, one outcome may be easily predicted. The feed-in tariffs for solar PV projects will come down. The question that remains is by how much? The chart presented here proposes that a 10-13% decrease is possible considering that the local market still needs some support. Should the Conservatives axe the feed-in tariff program entirely or reduce the rates beyond that they will significantly damage if not nip this evolving industry in the bud.

Our Conclusion: It requires a healthy combination of market forces at work and a strong political will translated into transparent and reliable policies to keep the prices for all at balance, the consumers happy and the industry growing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sun Sets on 2nd Annual Solar & Conservation Fair

As mentioned in an earlier post, Wakulat|Law Principal Rob Wakulat teamed up with local Business Improvement Areas in the Etobicoke Lakeshore community and volunteers from the Environmental Planning Committee of the LAMP Community Health Centre to put on a one-day Solar & Conservation Fair dedicated to showcasing sustainability initiatives. A key theme was empowering local communities to explore taking on their own sustainability projects and, in particular, the opportunity presented by community power.

On Saturday September 10, 2011, the Assembly Hall played host to over 20 exhibitors, 13 speakers and over 200 attendees. Event highlights included:

Chocosol Solar Roaster
  • Welcome speech by local MPP Laurel Broten who travelled the province as Minister of the Environment (2005-2007) in support of the legislative and committee process that introduced the Green Energy and Green Economy Act to Ontario;
  • A prototype solar roaster built by Lorin Symington and the Chocosol team used to roast cacao beans for onsite sampling;
  • The University of Waterloo's Midnight Sun Solar Race Team with last year's solar car used for competing in international solar car competitions;
  • Local business owner Jim McNeil explaining why he decided to make Canclone Services the first solar-powered printer in Toronto; 
  • Information from speaker Matthew Zipchen about the recently launched SolarShare initiative which allows any Ontarian to invest in $1,000 community solar bonds, with a 5-year term and 5% annual return;
  • Samples of generously donated organic and locally-sourced refreshments from Front Door Organics, The Village Butcher, Fresh City Farms and Social Coffee & Tea Company
  • Book signing by author, columnist and Cleanbreak blogger Tyler Hamilton for his new book Mad Like Tesla; and
  • IMG_0251
     University of Waterloo Midnight Sun Solar Race Team
  • Environmental author and speaker Jim Harris delivering the end-of-day keynote speech that explained how going green is good for business.
The Fair encouraged people who not only care about reducing their environmental footprint to gather and discuss ideas, but also those people interested in learning about how to benefit financially from taking on green initiatives. Attendees were able to check out seminars on topics such as rooftop solar technology, community power, green careers and energy conservation through landscaping. Exhibitors provided insight into their sustainable food options, solar technology, and community capacity building.

The donated delectables.

Even though Ontario has implemented the Green Energy and Green Economy Act, not all communities have easy access to the knowledge and tools required to participate in this emerging sustainable economy. The event was designed to bring useful information to businesses, residents and community groups who are normally quite busy and don’t necessarily have the time to research how they can participate in the province’s emerging green economy.

The Fair was an example of community spirit, created and planned with the participation of local business associations, dedicated volunteers and non-profit community groups who share a passion for a cleaner, healthier and prosperous future.

Key support for the event was provided from the local BIAs, TABIA, Bullfrog Power and Toronto Hydro.
Event sponsor Toronto Hydro with materials promoting energy efficiency.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Funding Sustainability Efforts for Small Businesses

Wakulat|Law Principal Robert Wakulat has recently been working with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, though its greenTbiz program, to engage in sustainability outreach to Toronto's 27,000 small business members of the city's 71 BIAs. As greenTbiz looks to the best practice models of other green outreach programs, it has continually set its gaze upon the groundbreaking work being done in the Pearson Eco-Business Zone by Partners in Project Green.

Last Thursday (September 22, 2011), PPG held an Eco-Business Breakfast entitled Funding your Sustainability Efforts.  It brought together speakers from RBC Dominion Securities, Royal Bank of Canada, Ameresco Canada and Reliance Comfort to learn about how best to fund various environmental initiatives.

From funding eco-projects through becoming more financially efficient, as Robert Lumia of RBC Dominion Securities spoke about, to commercial financing as Ged Seguin of RBC discussed, the Energy Savings Performance Contract model outlined by Jim Fonger of Ameresco and the renting approach demonstrated by Yolanda vdWeerd of Reliance Commercial, a variety of methods were reviewed.

Presentations can be downloaded here.