03/27/2012 10:18 EDT | Updated 05/27/2012 05:12 EDT

In Ontario, Electricity Gets a Renewable Shock

With a host of new changes announced recently, Ontario's Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program is now on much firmer ground. Let's hope these changes will cool some of the overheated rhetoric, so we can all get on with fighting global warming and building a new green economy.


Ontario's world class renewable energy policy -- Feed-in Tariff (FIT) -- just got a whole lot stronger.

First, let's remember why this is important: We need to transition away from polluting energy sources like coal to clean, renewable ones like solar, wind, and geothermal in order to stave off dangerous levels of global warming and protect our health and our children's health.

In the first two years of the program, Ontario stepped out as one of the world leaders on renewable energy, but like all new things, there were a few bumps to smooth out. If the FIT program was going to prosper in the long run, it needed some careful adjustments to get it right. The Ontario government just finished its long awaited two-year review and it looks like they have listened to many of the public's recommendations.

With a host of new changes announced last week, the FIT program is now on much firmer ground, allowing Ontario to continue leading the continent in building clean, safe, renewable electricity. Hopefully these changes will cool some of the overheated rhetoric, so we can all get on with fighting global warming and building a new green economy.

Here's what was announced:

Cheaper renewable energy

The FIT program helps level the playing field between dirty sources of electricity like coal and clean sources like solar. The cost of doing this has so far had a tiny impact on electricity rates (0.4cent/kw/hr according to the Environmental Commissioner), but it's important to keep prices as low as possible in the future too.

Because of the big advances in solar and wind technologies as well as growing supply triggered by the FIT program, the cost to build these renewable energy projects has come down. This price decrease is one of the stated goals of the FIT so it only makes sense then that prices paid under the FIT would come down accordingly also. Across the board, FIT rates have now been reduced by 15-25 per cent. More cost competitive and affordable clean renewable energy is good for everyone.

Encourage community & Aboriginal ownership

Renewable energy projects owned at least in part by Aboriginal or community groups will be given priority in connecting to the grid. This is an important signal that projects that provide the most benefits to local Ontario residents will be a priority.

Work with municipalities

Municipalities have at times voiced concern they felt left out of the FIT program. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) asked that this be addressed: "Changes to Ontario's FIT program should strengthen the municipal consultation process for green energy projects," said AMO President Gary McNamara. "The changes announced today should have the effect of gravitating green energy projects toward communities that support them." The goal is that new renewable energy projects will be more connected to local communities, providing greater financial benefits and control.

More ambitious renewable energy targets

Manufacturers like the ones who make solar panels were increasingly worried that low targets for renewable energy overall would mean demand for their products would dry up just as they were getting established. The targets were moved up to provide more certainty to hire more employees and grow the industry. It's clear renewable can generate more of our electricity, so let's hope that renewable energy targets are expanded in the near future

Let's hope these and other changes will lead to far more wind, solar, bio-energy, and small hydro projects being built across the province at a faster rate. With a greater emphasis on community and Aboriginal ownership, the future looks bright indeed. Getting this right means less asthma-causing smog, creating new green jobs, and doing our part to tackle climate change to give our children the future they deserve.