Mending the Rift Between the Solar Community and Ontario

If you haven’t heard, the international solar community is frothing at the mouth over the most recent regulations and edicts issued by the province of Ontario.

This is a remarkable turnabout from the reams of accolades that the industry had been issuing in response to Ontario’s innovative “Feed-in-Tariff” (FIT) Program. Previously the solar community had been heaping praises on the program saying it was “forward-looking,” “smartly addresses global warming” and “efficiently designed.”

However, all that changed a little more than a week ago when the Ministry issued a few new rules for the program.  Now solar industry pundits claim that the program is “backward,” “protectionist” and a “Catch 22.”

A “Catch 22”?

Well, after months of negotiating with the solar industry, the Ontario government decided to make a couple of last minute, somewhat surprising changes to the rules for utility-scale solar projects in the province.

Perhaps the most contentious change is a requirement that in order to qualify to the FIT, at least 50% (and for all practical purposes 60%) of the equipment for the projects must be manufactured in Ontario. The way that the requirements are parsed, this means that some aspect of the solar module must be manufactured in Ontario.

So what’s the big deal? Don’t all countries make rules like this?

As best I can tell, THERE ARE NO SOLAR MODULES CURRENTLY BEING MANUFACTURED IN ONTARIO.

A Simple but Bold Solution

So what’s a solar power developer to do?  Wait for a manufacturing plant to be built?

Actually the solution is quite simple: SELL MICHIGAN, AND ITS SOLAR MANUFACTURING PLANTS, TO ONTARIO.

Now I know what you’re going to say, “Why not sell Ohio or New Mexico?”

Actually, there are some very good reasons why selling Michigan to Ontario makes the most sense:

  1. Ohio is too big and too expensive.
  2. New Mexico is too far from the Canadian border (and given the economy we may need to sell it to Mexico in the near future).
  3. We could make Ontario a really, really, really good deal on Michigan.

Do we have to sell ALL of Michigan?

Actually,  no. All we would have to do is sell Detroit, the bit north of the city with the UNI-Solar plants and maybe a piece of Ann Arbor to sweeten the deal.

Why would Ontario buy some or all of Michigan?

There are a surprising number of very good reasons that Ontario would want to buy, or just plain annex, the Detroit area from Michigan:

  1. They’d get the Detroit Tigers, and Canada would have a winning baseball team for the first time in thirty years.
  2. They’d also get a pretty good Detroit Red Wings team, and since most of the players are Swedes Fins or Russians, they wouldn’t care.
  3. We’d agree not to sell them any of the U.S. car companies.

But wouldn’t many Americans, especially Republicans, scream bloody murder and stop the sale?

Maybe, but once you remind them that Michigan is a “swing” state, and that without all the Democrats from Detroit the state would definitely vote Republican, I don’t think you’d get much push back.

Plus, the remaining legislators in Michigan could take credit for immediately reducing the state’s crime statistics, and get re-elected.

Net, selling just a bit of Michigan to Ontario has a little something for solar power developers, legislators and sports nuts…in short, everybody who matters.

Like most solutions to thorny and knotty problems, I’m surprised that nobody had thought of this sooner.

John Kerastas is a solar industry marketing communications consultant.  Earlier this year he was the chairman of the solar track at the 2009 Electric Power conference. He has worked for a solar power development company, appeared in two CarbonConnect web-streaming videos about solar power and is writing an article on rooftop solar for the inaugural issue of Green Manufacturer magazine. Prior to working in the solar business, he worked for SmartSignal Corporation, which provides Predictive Analytics to the Power Generation, Oil & Gas, and aviation industries, among others.

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