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Solar in Ontario may be a casualty of the upcoming election


Incentives for Ontario’s solar industry may be canceled just as it has begun to create much needed jobs for the province.

With the Ontario election just a few weeks away, the debate over Ontario’s green energy policy is heating up and the province’s nascent solar industry hangs in the balance just as it is starting to hit its stride. With the latest polls indicating a very close race between the incumbent Liberals and the opposition Conservatives, the fate of the solar industry in Ontario is about to be determined.

In the face of the recession and financial crisis of 2008 and a manufacturing sector that was bleeding jobs, premier McGuinty introduced the Feed-in Tariff to encourage the growth of a renewable energy industry and create new jobs in a growing sector. The policy, which is similar to Germany’s, rewards those who supply green energy to Ontario’s electricity grid by paying them a fixed amount per kilowatt hour for a period of 20 years.

The leader of the provincial Conservatives Tim Hudak’s opposition to the policy is based on the projection of increased electricity bills for Ontario consumers in the coming years. Much of the debate centres around a $6.7 billion deal the Liberals signed with Korean-based Samsung C&T Corporation and Korea Electrical Power Corporation to have the company generate 2.5 GW of renewable energy and construct at least 4 green energy plants, creating a projected 16,000 direct and indirect jobs. At least one analyst has stated that this deal will cost the average Ontario household $65 per year, however, the Liberals dispute this analysis, claiming that it is based on false assumptions. The dispute is over how much of the green energy will be exported, since the exported electricity will be sold at a lower price. The Liberals claim that the decommissioning of coal plants and the temporary removal of the Darlington nuclear plant for maintenance mean that more of the electricity will be consumed in the province.

Samsung recently announced the  planned opening of a fourth photovoltaic module manufacturing facility in London Ontario, which will create 200 jobs. According to the Liberals, if the Conservatives win the election and repeal the Green Energy Act, Ontario could lose the approximately 20,000 jobs that the policy has already created. These jobs include everything from assemblyline workers, to salespeople, to solar panel installation professionals.

The Liberals defend the Green Energy Act by pointing out that for a minimal cost to Ontarians (about the cost of a muffin and coffee per household each month), it provides much needed jobs, and that it also helps to establish Ontario as a leader in the emerging green economy. One report from Clearsky Advisors found that by 2018 Ontario’s solar industry would create 74,000 person-years of employment and approximately $13 billion of new private-sector investments.

Against a backdrop of persistently high unemployment, due to the high Canadian dollar and a reeling manufacturing sector, the promise of jobs in what is widely seen as a future growth industry, which also has important environmental benefits, may ultimately convince voters to stay the course, and re-elect the Liberals. The issue is likely to  remain front and centre for the duration of the election campaign as Ontarians decide if an investment in the growth of solar in Ontario is worth the price.

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