They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, it’s a map that packs that punch. This map speaks volumes about the success of Ontario’s efforts to spark a green energy revolution. In just four years, the province has gone from a tiny handful of renewable energy projects to thousands of projects across the province.
This map roughly illustrates the remarkable growth of wind, solar, biogas, biomass and small hydro projects that have been developed through the province’s Small and Large Feed-in Tariff programs. These programs were set up as part of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.
Across Ontario, there are about 2,500 separate projects to date. Projects include large solar arrays, wind turbines and small hydro developments (often redevelopments of old dam sites). There are biogas operations that use everything from livestock manure to city wastewater to produce valuable energy. There are large wind farms that capture the gusts coming off the Great Lakes to keep the lights on in our towns and cities.
Many other projects are rooftop solar systems on everything from schools, hospitals and community centres to grocery stores and warehouses. For example, there are now more than 350 rooftop solar systems on Toronto District School Board schools that are not only teaching our kids about clean energy, but also providing valuable income for everything from roof repairs to new, more energy efficient windows. Even the Canadian Opera Company has panels on the roof of its sleek downtown opera house that help fund performances.
Others have gotten involved through community co-ops, which allow individuals to jointly develop projects and share the proceeds. The SolarShare Co-op, for example, has raised $2 million from 500 individual members to develop projects across southern Ontario.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The map doesn’t show the extra 934 small and large projects just approved, nor the 20,000 projects that have been approved through the province’s microFIT program. For the most part, these are small solar systems on homes, owned by average Ontarians who have put up their own savings to be part of the green revolution.
Prices paid for renewable power have been a source of controversy in some circles. But the real story is that the province simply underestimated how quickly costs for renewable energy equipment would fall and how much demand there would be from individuals, co-ops, schools, community centres and businesses to participate.
The revisions to the FIT program announced late last year address this oversight by instituting yearly price reviews. Prices paid for solar, for example, have already dropped by close to 30 per cent, reflecting the fact that solar energy is becoming a better economic bet. Try finding a nuclear or gas project where that has happened.
We should be proud of what we’ve accomplished in Ontario. We have thriving renewables sector, creating jobs, cleaning our air and helping our pocketbooks. It’s true there have been bumps in the road and lessons learned about everything from connecting systems to the electricity grid to making sure communities have a greater opportunity to get involved in producing zero-emission power.
But the rapid spread of green energy systems in Ontario is a good reminder that with the right policies and incentives, we can take effective action on climate change – quickly.