TORONTO — The Ontario government says it has paid a $28-million award that a NAFTA tribunal ruled was owed to a wind power company over a provincial offshore wind moratorium.
Windstream Energy had a 300-megawatt project planned in eastern Ontario when the provincial government abruptly enacted the moratorium in February 2011.
The company took its complaint to a NAFTA tribunal that partially ruled in Windstream's favour, awarding it about $25 million in damages for unfair and inequitable treatment as well as about $3 million in legal fees.
Payment was due within 30 days of the Sept. 30 ruling and Windstream went to court in February to ask it to enforce the award.
Windstream was also seeking the interest it was awarded — 2.7 per cent, compounded annually, from Nov. 1, 2016 until the date of payment.
The total paid was $28,095,332, which includes about $240,000 in interest, according to a spokesman for Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.
Thibeault defended the moratorium despite that cost.
"Part of that is making sure that we get things right and that's why we're asking the (Ministry of the Environment) to further study some implications that are relating to offshore wind," he said. "We don't want to have (offshore wind turbines) up and then realize that there's something that we would have to do to take these down that has even bigger complications."
Five government-commissioned studies have been completed since 2011 on impacts on fish, other environmental impacts, sound and decommissioning requirements. The Liberal government is now looking to an Ohio-based offshore wind project in the Great Lakes for more data.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said he's concerned taxpayers are footing the bill for government errors.
"If you look at all the staff time, legal costs that went into this, the bill could be much larger, so it's just another example of a government that has their mistakes, their miscalculations — everyone else in Ontario is paying for it," he said.
NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh said provinces should, in general, have the autonomy to make policy decisions, but this one could have been handled better.
"With this government we've seen opportunities where the government could have saved taxpayers from spending enormous amounts of money like the gas plant scandals," he said.
The government's decision to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election came at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.
Trillium Power Wind also had an offshore wind project in the works at the time of the moratorium, and that company has sued the Ontario government for $500 million for misfeasance in public office.
The Liberal government is also under criminal investigation stemming from Trillium's claim. The company alleged in the lawsuit that government officials destroyed documents after the company sued over the government's cancellation of a Lake Ontario wind project and the provincial police are investigating.
None of Trillium's allegations have been proven in court.
In its statement of defence, the government says it was a coincidence that the moratorium and cancellations were issued just before Trillium's financing was set to close.