The Ford government’s cancellation of almost 800 renewable energy projects after taking power last year will cost Ontarians at least $231 million, sparking comparisons with a previous Liberal government’s costly axing of two natural gas-fired power plants.
“The similarities are striking,” New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) said Tuesday of the July 2018 moves that halted 758 projects and the White Pines wind turbine farm in Prince Edward County.
“Wasting $231 million to cancel hydro contracts is the sort of thing the previous Liberal government did during the gas plants scandal.”
The figure was in the latest public accounts from the Ministry of Energy under operating expenses in a subsection called “other transactions.” It was later clarified for the legislative library by the ministry as funds “to wind down renewable energy contracts while ensuring that the costs of terminating those costs are not borne by electricity consumers.”
Ontario’s auditor general found the cost of former premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to scrap two politically unpopular gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville before the 2011 election could cost up to $1.1 billion over 20 years. The Liberal government’s initial estimates of the total cost were a fraction of that.
When the renewable projects were cancelled by the Progressive Conservatives, Energy Minister Greg Rickford claimed the move would save electricity consumers $790 million and said none of the 758 projects had reached “development milestones,” making it cheaper to scrap them.
“We believe we had to take those actions to try to … lower costs across the board,” Associate Energy Minister Bill Walker said Tuesday.
“Our government has been very clear it would act to cancel any unnecessary contracts. Ontario has an adequate supply of power right now.”
When the projects were cancelled, Rickford repeatedly refused to discuss the costs of any penalties and told reporters legislation would be passed to keep them “as low as they can be.”
Walker noted the White Pines project in the Bay of Quinte riding of cabinet minister Todd Smith was the subject of local objections and a downsizing order by the Environmental Review Tribunal, reducing it by two-thirds to nine wine turbines. They were opposed by the local municipality and many area residents, in part over concerns about migratory birds and the Blandings turtle.
Observers have suggested the White Pines cancellation alone could cost $100 million, but Walker would not comment on that figure.
Tabuns said he finds the government’s defence of the $231 million cost “a bit rich.”
“I sat through the whole of the gas plant experience because the Conservatives went out of their minds over the waste that was committed by the Liberals. And now they’re doing exactly the same thing,” he told reporters.
While the Progressive Conservatives promised that scrapping the projects would not cost hydro ratepayers, that is clearly not the case given that electricity ratepayers are also taxpayers, Tabuns added.
“How can the premier claim he’s saving taxpayers and ratepayers money when he’s throwing away $231 million not to build renewable energy?”
The government also had to pay a kill fee of $103 million U.S. when American state regulators rejected Hydro One’s takeover of a northwestern U.S. utility called Avista Corp. over concerns about political interference in the ouster of Hydro One’s CEO, and has earmarked $30 million for a court battle over Ottawa’s power to impose a carbon tax, Green Leader Schreiner noted.
“We’re starting to get into Liberal gas plant territory when you add all those numbers up,” he said.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1