Ontario revamps FIT program


The Canadian province of Ontario is set to introduce a number of far-reaching changes to its solar feed-in-tariff (FIT) program in the coming months that seek to comply with the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against the region’s domestic content requirements, replaces the large project stream in the FIT program with a competitive procurement process; and expands funding programs for municipalities.

Unveiling the new measures at the Solar Ontario Conference on May 30, Ontario Minister of Energy Bob Chiarelli said: "To keep Ontario on track as a clean energy leader, we must create a sustainable, predictable procurement process for renewable energy. … That’s the only way that Ontario can fully integrate renewable energy into our clean energy future."

Chiarelli added that Ontario had to "increase local engagement over the siting of renewable energy projects, and put a strong focus on energy conservation. That’s the only way that Ontario can fully integrate renewable energy into our clean energy future."

The energy minister said competitive procurements for individual project will ensure that renewable energy developers work directly with municipalities before contracts are awarded. Large renewable energy generation will thus be targeted regionally, based on system needs.

"A better process will better integrate renewable energy into our communities and economy, encouraging growth in the renewable energy sector and respecting communities," Chiarelli said.

The Ministry of Energy and the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) will develop the new procurement process in coordination with Ontario’s ongoing review of its long-term energy plan, which is currently underway and based on consultation with the public, municipalities, aboriginal communities and the energy sector. The review of Ontario’s long-term energy plan includes an assessment of the province’s renewable energy targets and electricity supply and demand forecast.

In addition, municipalities are set to gain a stronger voice, more tools and more options when it comes to renewable energy development, Chiarelli said. Municipalities will be afforded the same treatment as communities – such as co-operatives – in the FIT program, allowing municipalities to be eligible for priority points in the application process. Municipalities will also have access to funding for soft costs associated with the development and design of community renewable energy projects. Projects partnered or led by municipalities as well as universities, schools and hospitals will be eligible for set-asides under an annual procurement target.

"All of these changes mean that renewable energy projects will be built in the right place at the right time," Chiarelli added.

This fall, the OPA will open a new procurement window of 70 MW for small FIT and 30 MW for microFIT and Ontario is currently setting procurement targets from 2014 to 2018 for the microFIT and small FIT programs. The OPA will set annual procurement targets of 50 MW for microFIT and 150 MW for small FIT per year for the next four years, representing an average of more than 800 small FIT projects more than 5,500 microFIT projects annually.

Combined with this fall’s procurement, new capacity under the microFIT and small FIT programs will reach 900 MW.

The OPA is also set proceed this summer with a pilot program for small FIT rooftop solar projects on buildings yet to be constructed. Current FIT rules require projects to be built on existing buildings. Under the new program, buildings can be designed to be easily adapted for rooftop solar installations.

Addressing the recent WTO decision, Chiarelli said: "Ontario intends to comply with the WTO’s ruling. And that means we will revisit our domestic content requirements for the FIT Program. I have confidence in the resilience of the clean energy manufacturing sector in Ontario."

Ontario has continued to see its solar industry grow and currently ranks among the top 10 solar jurisdictions in North America. The province has seen capacity grow to more than 750 MW — more than any other jurisdiction in Canada – and more than 3,000 people currently work in Ontario’s solar sector. The region also boasts the 51 largest rooftop and 33 largest ground-mounted solar projects in Canada.