The adoption of advanced feed-in tariffs in Ontario: A case of institutional layering

By Jacques Fontaine

In his masters thesis for the Université de Montréal, Jacques Fontaine tackles how the province of Ontario leapt to the forefront of renewable energy development in North America. Within a few short years, Ontario went from a backwater where what went for energy policy could be summed up as “all nuclear all the time” to a province that successfully launched the most progressive renewable energy policy in North America in three decades.

The torturous route to the Green Energy and Green Economy Act is a subject close to my heart. I was a participant and my role—along with that of many others–is examined in Fontaine’s thesis.

Fontaine argues that the eventual introduction of renewable energy feed-in tariffs in Ontario was a process of gradual layering of new ideas on old, of new outlooks on earlier preconceptions.

This layering and gradual introduction of new ideas was never apparent to us in the thick of the fray. Down in the trenches it felt like we were making a frontal assault on one-hundred years of provincial policy. It seemed revolutionary to us.

But as Fontaine notes, we found allies at the most senior levels of the provincial power structure and we set about building the broadest coalition we could. Our motto at the time was we would talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere about our objective—and we did.

In the end, nothing would have happened without the leadership, vision—and courage—of successive Ministers of Energy Donna Cansfield and George Smitherman and of course the willingness of Premier Dalton McGuinty to stake his political future on the vision that Ontario could become a renewable energy powerhouse.

For a brief period, Ontario’s development of renewable energy exceeded that of any jurisdiction in North America, including California.

It’s an exciting—and uplifting story. It’s a story of how a broad coalition of citizens, farmers, and public interest groups brought about a change in policy that those in the know said couldn’t be done.

And it’s a story that’s not over yet.

Paul Gipe

The adoption of advanced feed-in tariffs in Ontario: A case of institutional layering by Jacques Fontaine