By Debora Van Brenk, The London Free Press
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 9:34:37 EST PM
The window to small solar projects reopens in Ontario on Dec. 14.
And, in contrast to the crowd of applicants trying to squeeze through the sashes at once, the province will use a more systematic way of assessing who gets first crack at contracts.
“One of the things we’ve worked very hard at is streamlining the assessment and the approval process,” Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley said Wednesday.
“We’ve created a fast track for those projects that are not controversial.”
That means the more routine requests — those neither near homes nor seeking to use acres of prime farmland for solar farms, for example — will find a faster ride through the process.
Bentley said the fast-tracked applications could be processed within three months of the closing deadline.
The so-called “small-FIT program” — almost all of them are solar projects, which would be contracted to provide energy to the grid at premium prices — has been on hold for months while the province sorts out new rules that would work for applicants and opponents alike.
Bentley announced the reopened program during this week’s Canadian Solar Industries Association conference.
The Ontario Power Authority will start receiving applications Dec. 14 and will soon set an end date for applicants.
Contracts will be awarded to supply a total of 200 megawatts of power, enough to power about 100,000 homes.
The “small-FIT” category includes stand-alone solar installations as well as those attached to institutions, small industry, homes and farms.
A new points system will give priority to projects that have community partners, have drawn no objections from neighbours or are from First Nations communities.
“I expect there will be a lot more than 200 megawatts of applications,” Bentley said.
The relaunch also benefits manufacturers, designers and installers of green energy, he said.
It also sustains a growing base of research into electricity storage and more advanced smart-grid technology.
The Ontario Liberals have declared they want Ontario to stop using coal-generated power by 2014.
Part of their Green Energy Act is a program of subsidies for companies that design, build and use renewable energy sources that connect to the province-wide electrical grid.