Wind developers look to Ontario in the midst of PTC uncertainty

Planning for wind energy developments in the U.S. for 2013 is literally at a stand-still due to the uncertainty of an extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). But that isn’t stopping some developers from moving forward with new projects for next year. These new builds might, however, pop up not in the U.S., but in a community with a stable government support for renewable energy – Ontario.

Established in 2010, the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-in Tariff (FIT) Program was North America’s first guaranteed pricing structure for renewable energy generation. The provincial government’s goal is to reach 10,700 MW of non-hydro renewable generation installed by 2018. This drive for mostly wind and solar installations has led many developers, like Pattern Energy, to head north as they wait out the uncertainty period in the U.S.

Pattern Energy Group LP, a U.S.-based wind and transmission company, is currently in the final stages of planning for a $600 million, 270 MW wind project joint venture with Samsung Renewable Energy Inc. Pending final approval from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the targeted start for construction on the 124-turbine South Kent Wind project is the third quarter of 2012, with the wind project fully operational by early 2014.

Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy, said stale policy for wind energy in the U.S. has undoubtedly caused his company, as well as other developers, to look north. “We clearly have increased our focus and spending in Canada compared to the U.S. Our Ontario projects help us to continue investing in projects and communities despite the political uncertainty affecting the U.S. market.”

Of the 10,700 MW of renewable energy expected in Ontario by 2018, about 2,000 MW is currently installed, with another 3,600 MW contracted out, said Stuart McFadden, Chatham-Kent member of the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance. Of that, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) expects that 5,600 MW of new wind energy capacity will be installed in Ontario by 2018. That leaves a lot of opportunity left for developers to propose new wind projects, McFadden said.

Canada is the ninth largest producer of wind energy in the world with a current capacity of 5,403 MW –about 2.3 percent of Canada’s total electricity demand. In 2011, Canada experienced a record year with the addition of 1,267 MW of new wind energy capacity. In Ontario alone, 500 MW of wind energy was installed in 2011.

Currently, Ontario has wind developments completed or underway by Samsung/Pattern, RES Canada, Kruger Energy, International Power Corp., Boralex Inc., Invenergy, Suncor Energy, Brookfield, Enbridge and more.

Establishing a FIT to help finance projects has undoubtedly spurred the renewable energy growth in Ontario, McFadden said, and has greatly benefitted the economy as well. “The FIT was a bold move by the province. A lot of provinces are waiting to see what happens with Ontario before they jump in.”

In the aftermath of a slowing wind market in the U.S., Garland said he expects wind energy growth all throughout Canada to gain momentum. “We consider Ontario a terrific model for other provinces.”

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