Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne recently sent a letter to Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli setting out key priorities for the Ministry of Energy in 2014. The government's top energy priority continues to be providing Ontarians with a clean, reliable and affordable supply of electricity. Among the measures outlined by the Premier to achieve this goal are the development of programs to mitigate electricity prices and investments to help Ontarians share in affordable supplies of natural gas. There is also an emphasis on the continued implementation of Ontario's 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP), including pursuing energy conservation, championing renewable energy and intervening in major pipeline proposal regulatory hearings. Several of the Premier's specific priorities for the Ministry of Energy are described in more detail below. The full text of Premier Wynne's letter is available here.
Mitigating Electricity Prices
To address the challenges low-income families face from increasing electricity costs, the Ministry of Energy will develop a new residential electricity assistance program. Further, the Ministry of Energy will work with the Ministry of Finance to remove the Debt Retirement Charge from residential electricity bills by December 31, 2015.
Businesses can expect the implementation of a new stream of the Industrial Electricity Incentive program to provide cost relief to companies establishing or expanding operations in Ontario. As well, the Industrial Conservation Initiative will be expanded to support more businesses in shifting electricity consumption to off-peak hours in an effort to decrease the need for costly peak generation. In order to reduce energy costs for small business owners, the Ministry will implement the previously announced five-point business energy savings plan, including the introduction of on-bill financing for the upfront costs of energy conservation projects and the expansion of the saveONenergy for Business program.
Affordable Natural Gas
In order to expand access to natural gas services and give consumers in underserved communities more energy choices while attracting new industry to Ontario, the government has established two new funding programs. The $200 million, two-year Natural Gas Access Loan will help communities partner with utilities to extend access to natural gas supplies in unserviced areas. The $30 million Natural Gas Economic Development Grant will accelerate projects with clear economic development potential.
Ontario aims to have 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy online by 2025. The Ministry of Energy will work with its agencies to implement a new competitive procurement process for renewable energy projects larger than 500 kilowatts that will take into account local needs and considerations. In particular, the Ministry's agencies will work with municipal partners to ensure meaningful and effective participation by municipalities in the decision-making process for the placement of renewable energy projects.
In addition to implementing the procurement process for renewable energy, the Ministry will ensure that timelines for meeting the LTEP's energy storage procurement targets are met and that the Ministry addresses the regulatory barriers that limit the ability of energy storage technologies to compete in Ontario's electricity market.
Driving Efficiencies and Maximizing Return on Investment from Electricity Sector Agencies
Working with the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board, the Ministry will consider forthcoming recommendations from the Advisory Council on Government Assets on how to improve efficiency and optimize the full value of Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation.
The Ministry will also work with the Ontario Power Authority and Independent Electricity System Operator on the amalgamation of the two agencies into a single entity as set out in the recently enacted amendments to the Electricity Act, 1998.
Pursuing Energy Conservation
Energy conservation continues to be a key goal in the implementation of the LTEP. The Ministry of Energy will work with the Ontario Power Authority, Independent Electricity System Operator and Ontario Energy Board to prioritize, incorporate and implement Ontario's Conservation First approach to invest in conservation—instead of new generation—where cost-effective.
Consulting with Aboriginal Communities
The Ministry of Energy will ensure consultation with Aboriginal communities on any energy activity that could adversely impact Aboriginal or treaty rights. It will continue to support programs, such as the Aboriginal Energy Partnership Program, which encourage participation by First Nation and Métis communities in conservation initiatives and new generation and transmission projects. Working in partnership with other agencies and ministries as needed, the Ministry of Energy will work to connect remote northern communities to the power grid and reduce reliance on diesel fuel.
The Ministry of Energy will continue to intervene in regulatory hearings about major pipeline projects that directly affect the interest of Ontario in a manner that is consistent with the following six pipeline principles outlined in the LTEP:
1. pipelines must meet the highest available technical standards for public safety and environmental protection;
2. pipelines must have world-leading emergency response programs;
3. proponents and governments must fulfil their consultation obligations with Aboriginal communities;
4. local municipalities must be consulted;
5. projects should provide demonstrable short- and long-term economic benefits for Ontario; and
6. economic and environmental risks and responsibilities should be borne exclusively by the pipeline companies who must provide financial assurance demonstrating their capability to respond to leaks and spills.
We expect to see increased activity and opportunities in many parts of the energy sector as Premier Wynne's agenda is put into place. The implications of, and opportunities from, these initiatives will begin to take shape as the Ministry of Energy and its agencies develop more detailed implementation plans over the coming months.
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