TORONTO -- Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government is cancelling 758 renewable energy contracts, in what it says is an effort to reduce electricity bills in the province.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the move will save provincial ratepayers $790 million -- a figure industry officials dispute, saying it will just mean job losses for small business.
In a statement Friday, Rickford said the government plans to introduce legislation during its summer sitting that would protect hydro consumers from any costs incurred from the cancellation.
"For 15 years, Ontario families and businesses have been forced to pay inflated hydro prices so the government could spend on unnecessary and expensive energy schemes," Rickford said. "Those days are over."
The government announcement does not indicate which specific projects are being cancelled.
Rickford said the move is part of a campaign pledge the Progressive Conservatives made during the spring election to end the projects.
"We clearly promised we would cancel these unnecessary and wasteful energy projects as part of our plan to cut hydro rates by 12 per cent for families, farmers and small businesses," Rickford said.
"In the past few weeks, we have taken significant steps toward keeping that promise."
John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, called the government decision to cancel the projects "rash." Gorman said the move will hurt small investors who have put solar panels on their rooftops or properties.
"This is not about big business," he said. "This is about small rooftop projects that are owned by farmers and school boards and municipalities and First Nations groups. The folks that will be hurt are the installers and contractors and the engineers: the local guys, the little guys who have built up experience in building solar over the last few years."
Gorman said the decision will likely lead to lawsuits, and since the government has not actually paid any money to the companies, cancelling them will not bring hydro prices down.
"It's preposterous to try to tie the cancellation of these small rooftop projects to any savings on people's electricity bills," he said.
"This would not even have registered on the electricity bills of Ontarians," he said. "It's just a lose, lose, lose situation here, resulting from acting before thinking."
NDP Energy critic Peter Tabuns said the decision to cancel the renewable energy contracts will hurt thousands of jobs across the province and damage air and water quality. The party called on Ford to stop cancelling contracts until the impact can be determined.
"Mr. Ford's war on science and the environment may be pleasing his friends in back rooms and fulfilling promises he made to social conservatives that supported his election bid," Tabuns said in a statement. "But for the rest of us, it's going to means lost jobs, billions of dollars wasted, and tangible environmental damage."
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the cancellation means the province is turning its back on the global renewable industry, which he said is worth billions and is a proven job creator. Schreiner added the decision also sends a number of negative signals about the province to business.
"These types of contract cancellations expose Ontario to significant financial risk," he said. "On top of that, they're sending a message that Ontario's not a safe place to do business. What company wants to invest in a province that just rips up contracts without any notice, without any due process?"
Earlier this week, the Tory government said it would introduce legislation next week to cancel a wind project in eastern Ontario that is just weeks away from completion.
WPD Canada, the company behind the green energy project that has been under development for nearly a decade, said the cancellation could cost more than $100 million and warned that the dispute could be headed to the courts.