By Chris Must, EMC Perth
EMC News – MPP Randy Hillier plans to call on the provincial legislature to censure the McGuinty government over its handling of a program designed to encourage small business people to invest in solar power.
A July 2 announcement by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) has indicated that citizens who have taken advantage of Ontario’s microFIT program to invest in local solar energy projects will likely receive a smaller return on their investment than what they were originally promised.
“I’m preparing a point of privilege in the House to go after McGuinty,” Hillier told the EMC this week. “I see this as a fraudulent activity.”
The Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington MPP said about 100 constituents have come into his office concerned that they will be receiving 58.8 cents per kWh of electricity generated from their solar projects rather than the 80.2 cent return originally offered under the microFIT program. “They are outraged at McGuinty breaking this commitment to them,” said Hillier. “Anybody else doing that, of course, would be charged with fraud.” He hopes to bring the matter before the legislature when it reconvenes in mid-September.
“There is some talk of a class action suit, and I’m encouraging that,” Hillier said. “We can’t accept or tolerate the government not abiding by its commitments.”
The OPA announced a 30-day consultation period, which ended Aug. 3, prior to implementation of the new pricing structure.
The microFIT program was launched last October. According to the OPA, participation in the program vastly surpassed expectations, with more than 16,000 applications received. A large majority of the applicants planned to install ground-mounted rather than roof-mounted solar panels. The OPA is proposing the new pricing category of 58.8 cents per kWh for ground-mounted projects, which, it says, “will better reflect the lower costs to install a ground-mounted solar PV (photovoltaic) project versus a rooftop project.”
In its July 2 announcement the OPA stated the new price category would “provide a price that enables future project owners to recover costs of the projects as well as earn a reasonable return on their investment over the long term.”
The OPA announcement also stated that ground-mounted microFIT applicants who already have an executed contract or have received a conditional contract offer from the OPA will receive the original price of 80.2 cents, consistent with the microFIT rules. However, “All other ground-mounted microFIT projects, including those for which an application has been submitted but have not yet received a contract or conditional contract offer, will receive the price following consultations on the proposed 58.8 cents per kWh.”
Hillier said another proposed change in the program is that solar panels can only be installed on existing buildings. “A lot of people were going to build a new barn to put solar panels on,” Hillier added. “They have over 1,000 applications for roof-top solar units to go on new barns. That just kills that.”
Hillier said many of his constituents have had to go into debt to build their solar projects, which cost an average of $80,000 each.
“Manufacturers and installers have been hurt by order cancellations, but we had no choice to ‘agree’ to the proposed low price because we can’t sell our power to anyone else,” said Lois Thomson, commenting on a July 29 EMC story on the microFIT issue. “We borrowed money to build our system on a severance of the family farm where we are going to retire. We need the money.”
Area resident Eric Scheuneman told the EMC this week that a lower price for ground-mounted solar projects “would discriminate against rural people since they are the ones who have the land and solar sites to maximize the solar benefits for Ontario.” Scheuneman also disputes the assertion that ground-mounted systems are in fact cheaper than roof-mounted installations: “roof-mount is cheaper because one already has a structure with a foundation and rigid frame to hold the solar panels which are simply connect to the roof, whereas for ground-mount one must construct a new foundation and new frame capable of withstanding wind and snow loads.”
In a letter to the OPA and the government of Ontario, Scheuneman said that when he applied online to the microFIT program in April, the program website “made firm and clear commitments to the residents of Ontario who applied to the program.”
In the letter Scheuneman went on to say: “Your deliberate stalling of processing applications and revisionism is unethical, deceitful and illegal.
It is a kick in the teeth to the many Ontario citizens who took you at your written word and enthusiastically committed to solar installations.”