Thursday, December 20, 2012

WTO Ruling Against Ontario Renewables policy isn't about subsidizing renewables ... yet

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has issued it's rulings in disputes involving Ontario's renewable energy generation sector, finding, as previously reported, against the local content provisions of procurment programs, but not ruling against the feed-in tariff (FIT) program as a subsidy that violates WTO agreements.
In the press:
Richard Blackwell opened his article in the Globe with "Canada will appeal..."
The article quotes a Stuart Trew of some council of some Canadians to opine:
If there is no way to provide incentives for green energy in a free market system, “there is little hope of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the climate crisis...”
The ruling on local content has little relevance to the provision of renewable energy.  Japan's successful complaint was about procuring Ontario manufactured renewable energy - not about procuring renewable energy.

The European Commissions welcomed the ruling by stating it wants to export product to Ontario.

John Bennett, of a rumoured Sierra Club in Canada,  is interviewed:
... it is ironic that Japan and the EU were the source of the complaints, because they use subsidies and support for their solar and wind industries. He said he would advise the next premier of Ontario to ignore the ruling “like the Prime Minister is ignoring the Kyoto Protocol.
The Prime Minister that ignored the Kyoto Protocol is the one that initially signed it.  The current Prime Minister gave it all the attention required to withdraw from it.


This Prime Minister should ignore Ontario's request to appeal the ruling.
A spokeswoman for the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said that “as this is the first time Canada has received a WTO panel ruling arising solely from provincial policy or legislation, the government of Canada will be appealing the decision as requested by the government of Ontario.”
Proponents for renewables should also want the government of Canada to stop acquiescing to Ontaio's whimsical requests.

There were two disputes heard, with Canada - meaning Ontario - being fournd "in breach of its obligations" on the content requirement, but not on the feed-in tariff (FIT) constituting an illegal subsidy.  While the finding  of breach was unanimous, there was a minority opinion on the FIT that should be treated as a warning to people like Stuard Trew, John Bennett, and the other nice folks who want to keep the FIT scheme running.
...by bringing these high cost and less efficient electricity producers into the wholesale electricity market, when they would otherwise not be present, the Government of Ontario's purchases of electricity from solar PV and windpower generators under the FIT Programme clearly confer a benefit upon the relevant FIT generators, within the meaning of Article 1.1(b) of the SCM Agreement. 
The appeal might have the consequence of getting the entire FIT scheme abolished.
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is urging the European Commission to use the ruling to open up trade to "bring more renewable energy online and drive down costs."

Canada, driven by Ontario's FIT program, is reportedly the only jurisdiction in the world with rising prices for solar photovoltaic modules.

While the majority of the FIT program has been in disarray, and inactive, for some time, the one component where contracts are being offered is the smaller scale solar niche - a niche consultants advised the government to pursue to maximize vote buying.  

Other FIT categories are now seeing growing attrition rates in the planned projects (perhaps a third of all projects holding FIT contracts).  Much of the hesitancy to proceed with projects should be due to the fact Ontario's grid won't be able to accept much of it, but there's also revenue uncertainly being generated elsewhere in the world:
A broad coalition of international PV groups has pleaded with the European Commission (EC) to help soften or reverse the recent outbreak of laws seeking to claw back money and support pledged to solar-energy installations. - Recharge
Efforts to claw back some of the exhorbitant contract costs may come to pass in Ontario too.  "I stole it fair and square" is still presented as a legitimate argument here - it's usually described differently, such as, "the government needs to honour it's contracts."

Which may be true.

That would be a reason for Canada to honour the WTO ruling and ignore Ontario's request to file a baseless appeal that is as likely to lead to rulings threatening subsidies for generation throughout the world as it is to allow a handful of rent-seeking firms to generate some very expensive, temporary, employment in Ontario.

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