Thursday, September 29, 2011

Green energy and the last week of the campaign

As we get closer to the election, the uncertainty that is being caused by Tim Hudak's opposition to both Ontario's Green Energy Act and the Samsung deal that brings renewable energy investment to the province is getting some renewed attention. Nothing like decision day to focus the mind on what is at stake.
“The entire industry is on the edge of their seats,” said Anthony Kim, a solar-industry analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York, referring to renewable energy.
The election has affected smaller producers such as Potentia Solar Inc., a Toronto-based company launched by Conundrum Capital, a private-equity firm. Potentia plans to produce 100 megawatts of solar power within five years by installing solar arrays on rooftops of commercial buildings.

“We’ve got all the ingredients, except one, which is a politically stable environment,” said Lorne Stephenson, director of stakeholder relations. The company has been cautious in approaching new clients before the election, he said.

The Conservatives’ promise has created “tremendous uncertainty” among investors and manufacturers, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. Investors “are waiting to see what kind of market there will be for wind power in Ontario,” he said by phone. If the tariff is canceled, “that market would shrink significantly.”
It really is going to be a major turning point if Tim Hudak gets to proceed with his backwards looking promises and pulls the rug out from under the growing green energy industry in Ontario. So as election day looms and people are still mulling over the green energy issue, it's worth considering what Germany's head environmental official had to say last week when he visited Ontario. He's been involved in developing renewable energy there for about 25 years. His comments highlight what we might be at risk of throwing away:
Sharing the experiences of Germany, Lehmann said the kind of green energy program introduced in Ontario needs to operate for a few years before the economic benefits – the true vision of the initiative – become more visible. “Then it explodes,” said Lehmann, meaning in a good way.

What Lehmann brought to the discussion was the benefit of hindsight. Twenty years ago renewable-energy represented less than 1 per cent of German power production. Today this production sits at 17 per cent, and the aim is to reach 35 per cent by 2020.

As a result, according to Lehmann, Germany has 370,000 people working in the renewable-energy sector – wind, biomass and solar mostly—compared to virtually nothing in the early 1990s.
“We are talking about a huge market that’s evolving,” he said later in an interview.

“If we take seriously the data about peak oil, the hunger for energy in developing countries, climate change – each of these will lead us to a transformation of energy systems. There’s enough room for Ontario to be in the game, to be ahead of that transformation.”
That's a good column from Tyler Hamilton that is worth a read. It mentions issues with the FIT program that could be improved, including the solar tariff rate and the need to improve community buy-in by emphasizing community-based projects. "But this is a reason to improve the program, not scrap it, said Lehmann."

Stay tuned, probably lots more to come on this issue this week from many of those with a stake in this industry.