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Ontario’s ‘FIT 2.0’ tightens limits on farmland projects

Changes to the program allowing Ontario farmers and landowners to feed the province’s power grid through their own "solar farms" will tighten limits for such operations on arable farmland.

The Ontario Power Authority, which launched the province’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program in 2009, on Aug. 10 released its final documents for what it called the program’s "version 2.0."

The new rules, posted on the OPA’s website, are now "final and effective," the authority said, adding it tentatively expects to open the application window for small FIT projects (500 kilowatts or less) on Oct. 1, to close Nov. 30. The window for large FIT project applications will be announced at a later date.

On-farm projects will not get any specific priority, as OPA said applications will be "prioritized with points awarded based on project type," listing points for "community participation, aboriginal participation, or public university, publicly-funded school, public college, hospital or publicly-owned long-term care home participation or where they are a host."

Points will also be given based on "municipal support, aboriginal support, project readiness" and benefit to the electricity system, OPA said.

Applications with more than 50 per cent equity participation from aboriginal groups or "community" co-operatives, such as for contract capacity set-aside projects, will be "prioritized above all other applications in an application window."

The program supports renewable energy produced from biomass, biogas, landfill gas, on-shore wind, solar photovoltaic (PV) and water.

Ground-mounted solar PV projects under FIT 2.0 may not be put up on residential property or on property next to residential property, OPA said.

One exception, however, is on land where the "lawfully permitted" use is agricultural, and only if residential use on the property and/or adjacent property is permitted on both properties as "ancillary" — that is, secondary or supportive — to the agricultural use.

Class 3, organic out

Furthermore, where ground-mounted solar projects were not previously allowed on Class 1 and 2 agricultural soils as per the Canada Land Inventory (CLI) classification system, such projects now will also not be allowed on either CLI Class 3 or CLI Organic soil.

If such a project is proposed on the non-CLI 1, 2, 3 or Organic soil portions of a property with a "mix" of soils, then soil studies, using an "expanded methodology and peer review process," will also still be required.

Exemptions to the CLI 1, 2 and 3 soil restrictions only include such properties as airport or aerodrome lands, closed landfills, federal military installations, "contaminated property" or Class 3 land owned by a municipality.

Among other changes, FIT project proponents will now also have to post application security, "as a result of the OPA’s experience with attrition of small FIT projects."

The security requirement is meant to encourage project developers to carry out "necessary due diligence" before applying to the program, and is representative of the project’s scale – either $20 per kW of capacity for solar PV systems, $10 per kW for other projects or $1,000, whichever is greater.

Projects with more than 50 per cent community co-op or aboriginal participation are eligible for lower security rates.

Solar and wind prices paid to project operators under FIT 2.0 will also be reduced from current levels, OPA said, to reflect "decreased equipment costs."

For example, a ground-mounted solar installation producing over 10 and up to 500 kW will now be eligible for 38.8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). An on-farm biogas project producing 100 kW or less will get 19.5 cents/kWh.

The smaller-scale microFIT program’s "2.0" version was launched in July, with a "transition window" between July 12 and Aug. 10 for previous applicants to resubmit their proposals.

Related stories:
Ont. farmers urge halt to wind turbine development, Jan. 20, 2012
No extra tax for Ont. farms’ small-scale power plants, Jan. 5, 2012
Ontario softens planned rate cut for solar farms, Aug. 13, 2010

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