Canada Needs a National Solar Policy

The solar industry has worked diligently over the last year to inform and educate the Canadian public and the federal government on the environmental and economic benefits of solar energy. As part of these efforts, representatives and members from the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) met with the Department of Finance and Natural Resources to discuss a national incentive structure. In addition, CanSIA representatives stood as witnesses before the Senate Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment, presenting the benefits of solar PV for Canadians. These efforts were instrumental in garnering recommendations for the furthering of solar technology on a national level in the most recent Report of the Standing Committee on Finance. While the industry has made tremendous strides in the Canadian market in the past year, there is still significant work to be done and each province faces different challenges.

Without a national incentive structure, some provincial governments have developed policy infrastructures to support the deployment of solar within their respective provinces. In Ontario, the implementation of the feed-in tariff (FiT) and microFiT programs has increased employment and brought in local manufacturing. Ontario’s solar industry supports approximately 8,200 full-time jobs and more than 30 PV module and inverter manufacturing facilities. Through the FiT program’s first two years it faced a number of implementation challenges, mostly due to a lack of visibility and an inability of contract offers to keep pace with applications. The government has recently halted the program while it reviews how FiTs should be administered in 2012 and beyond.

Through this review Ontario requested that CanSIA, as the trusted voice in the solar industry, provide feedback outlining how the program can be improved. CanSIA members developed very specific and practical recommendations for presentation to the government. I believe that these actionable recommendations and the many in-person consultations between industry proponents and Provincial government representatives will significantly improve the design of the FiT programme for longer-term sustainability. One of the main improvements we hope to see in the new FiT programme is greater transparency, which will help all members of the value chain.

While Ontario’s solar incentive policies are far ahead of those of other provinces, the aforementioned FiT review process is having a detrimental impact on its industry. Most installers and manufacturers are in a holding pattern until the new rules are determined and released, causing layoffs across the industry and requiring solar professionals to either take extended vacations or search for new employment outside the industry. The work being done at the government and regulatory level appears to be occurring in a manner that will allow the development of a more sustainable FiT program, but until the policy framework is resolved the industry will remain in a very challenging state of flux.

Each province is at a different state in terms of solar energy implementation and each has very different goals, influenced by politics, economics and other considerations. Without a nationally administered solar energy directive, each province will continue to develop and administer its own policies in accordance with its own political, economic and environmental goals. This evolutionary development will greatly assist the growth of the solar industry in Canada, but it will occur in a slower and more fragmented manner.

The Ontario programme proved that FiTs are a very effective mechanism for creating market demand, but they are only one of many tools that support the effective growth of solar energy. It is hoped that jurisdictions outside Ontario take notice of the benefits the FiT program has generated for that province and implement funding programs with the same end goal: to further bolster the solar industry across Canada.


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