C&I, Solar

Canada to Slash Last Remaining Federal Solar Program

While solar energy advocates in the U.S. may look longingly to Japan or Europe where government support is strongest, Rob McMonagle, President of the Canadian Solar Energy Industries Association, is envious of his neighbor to the south.

Support for solar in the U.S. has almost single-handedly been supported by state policies. But now, even the lukewarm U.S. Federal support will greatly eclipse its northern neighbor. Under the new Conservative party control of the Stephen Harper administration, the Canadian Federal government has slashed funding for the only federal solar program in the country. Currently there are no programs at the Canadian federal level that support solar photovoltaic (PV) power, but the one remaining program that supports solar thermal is likely to get the ax under the federal budget released last week. The Renewable Energy Deployment Initiative (REDI) provides a modest CAD $5 million to subsidize 25 percent of the installation costs for commercial-scale solar thermal project. “There’s a slash and burn going on right now in Canada to eliminate anything that doesn’t fit into the Conservative agenda,” McMonagle said. “Just as we’re starting to get going as an industry, firing on one cylinder, there was this change in the Federal Government.” McMonagle said the budget released last week slashed funding for any type of global warming or Kyoto protocol related program. Some class of “clean air” initiative is expected later this summer from the Harper government, but McMonagle is highly doubtful it will include any effort to support clean energy, particularly solar. The ironic backdrop to this Federal program cut is that Canadian provincial support has moved the other direction altogether with provinces such as Nova Scotia, British Columbia and, most recently, Ontario, establishing support mechanisms and programs to support renewable energy. Less than a month ago, Ontario was widely hailed for passing its long-term Standard Offer Contract, which is modeled after the same landmark “feed-in” rebate policies that have made European countries like Germany and Spain beacons for renewable energy use around the world. On some levels, this disconnect between Canadian provinces and the Federal government that echoes the situation in the U.S. where state policies have been the greatest supporters of renewable energy while the U.S. Federal government — despite a crescendo of rhetoric — has been rather restrained. But nowhere is a Federal void of support for renewable energy — even downright hostility towards it — more apparent than in Canada, says Peter Allen, President of Thermodynamics, manufacturers of flat-plate solar thermal collectors, and an example of a domestic Canadian manufacturer that will be affected by the expected dissolving of the last solar thermal program. “I didn’t expect anything interesting from Mr. Harper and his Conservative party,” Allen said. “They have a hostile attitude toward the environment and renewable energy. The handwriting is on the wall, they’re just more interested in burning oil.” Allen’s company, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is a relatively small operation with around CAD $1 million in yearly revenue split equally between domestic and international sales. He says he knows of a dozen commercial solar thermal projects that are on hold or will shortly be cancelled altogether because the Federal funds for the REDI program have been frozen. Allen says that “folks like to slam the U.S.” for its inaction on global warming and the Kyoto protocol but he says there’s a major disconnect between what Canadians think Canada is doing for clean energy and the environment, and what it are actually doing. Canada previously joined other nations in agreeing to the terms of the international global warming treaty, the Kyoto protocol, but Allen says little has been done besides the symbolic Canadian signature. He added that the U.S. has done much better in terms of supporting renewable energy by being up front about not supporting the Kyoto agreement but making sure there is some funding for renewable energy programs. In fact, Allen said, funding has increased overall under the Bush Administration, while his own country, even under its previous Liberal administration, has done little for renewables at the federal level. The Canadian Parliament is widely expected to pass the budget that will shut down the REDI solar thermal program indefinitely, leaving all policy support for solar energy up to the provinces.