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Wind power pushes its case for Ontario government support

Large wind turbines dot the landscape and cut into the skyline in Norfolk County in Southwetern Ontario on October 8, 2010.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ontario's wind power industry says the province needs to maintain support for the sector if it wants the significant job and investment gains it can generate.

A new report, sponsored by the Canadian Wind Energy Association – which represents players in the industry – says those economic benefits can be substantial: as much as $16-billion in private investment and 80,000 person-years of employment between now and 2018.

The study, conducted for CanWEA by consultants ClearSky Advisors, assumes that Ontario's wind capacity will grow from 1,428 megawatts – reached at the end of 2010 – to more than 7,100 MW by 2018. That's the target set out in the province's long-term energy plan.

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The current provincial government has boosted the wind sector by paying developers relatively high prices for wind-generated power through its "feed-in tariff" program. The policy requires a certain proportion of the equipment used in the wind projects to be manufactured in the province.

However, with a provincial election set for this fall, and the opposition vowing to kill off the feed-in tariff, there is no certainty the program will continue into the future. Opposition Leader Tim Hudak has said he believes the program is pushing up electricity prices, making them unaffordable for many residents.

Robert Hornung, president of CanWEA, acknowledged that with an election in the offing "there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty about what the future of the market looks like." That could cause investors to hesitate to make investments in the province's wind sector, he said.

There needs to be "policy clarity and stability" if the benefits outlined in the report are to be realized, he said.

Wind power opponents – who are not convinced of the economic value of wind farms and who are concerned about potential health effects – dismissed the report's claims.

John Laforet, who heads an organization called Wind Concerns Ontario, said the job numbers are not credible because they are projecting person-years of employment rather than full-time jobs. "They are not counting real people employed in real full-time permanent jobs," he said. Much of the work wind farms generate consists of temporary construction jobs, not skilled long-term positions, he said.

Mr. Laforet said many of the companies setting up plants in Ontario to make wind-power equipment will likely move to other jurisdictions if more generous government incentives are offered.

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And higher electricity prices caused by wind-power subsidies will discourage other industries from operating in the province, thus cutting into the overall job market, he added.

Mr. Laforet also noted that the report said only half of the projected $16-billion in wind-farm investment will be spent in Ontario, suggesting $8-billion will leave the province.

The report said that from 2011 to 2018, about $313-million will also be paid to landowners for leases to allow turbines on their property, and about $44-million will go to municipalities as tax revenue.

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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