Greater uncertainty now surrounds solar energy
CTV Southwestern Ontario
Published Tuesday, January 24, 2012 4:56PM EST
We've heard a lot of talk about green energy in Ontario. It was a central issue in the recent election. With the government subsidizing the industry, many companies and homeowners rushed to invest.
That was a few years ago. Today, there's a lot more uncertainty, and some of those who jumped in are feeling burned.
Solar is clean, and promised great returns. But right now, the industry is at a standstill. There are almost no new solar installations happening in Ontario. Mostly because the government is about to change the rules.
When Ken Burns quit his job to start a solar company, the sun was shining. He invested $100,000 and began installing roof-top panels on homes near Lynden.
He didn't see the dark clouds coming.
"I'm not doing any installations at the moment. And well, I should be installing. And I have the customer base to do it," Burns says.
Paying customers, whose applications to collect solar energy and sell it to the province, are caught up in a massive backlog. The process is frozen, while the Ontario government reviews what it's willing to pay.
Burns adds "If this doesn't work out I'm going to be looking for a job instead of creating jobs."
Creating jobs was, of course, the plan. The premier made the announcement in Cambridge in 2006. The Liberals promised highly subsidized twenty year contracts to anyone willing to set up a solar or wind project. The goal was to shut down the province's coal powered plants.
The payout was guaranteed. And many people bought in.
Peter Black, the director of Renewables for Brant County, says "They've got money in RRSP's or savings accounts and they're saying 'Look, it's paying me three per cent or five per cent, but this is going to pay me ten per cent over twenty years.'"
The auditor general has now criticized the plan as too rich and too rushed. Estimating the sweetheart green energy contracts will hike Ontarian's hydro bills by $220 million a year.
The Liberals hit pause and are now expected to introduce a less lucrative rate. What really stings is that they also plan to make it retroactive to august of last year.
Gary Sosnoski, a commissioner of corporate resources, says "It's frustrating to get wound–up to do this and then to wait."
And it's not just private money on the line. Local taxpayers are also invested.
CTV News has learned that the Region of Waterloo borrowed $16 million in 2010 to install solar panels on 25 regional buildings. Six of the applications are currently frozen in the province's backlog.
"What's problematic about that is those are the largest installations that we have," Sosnoski said.
That includes 2,300 panels that were supposed to be attached to the roof of the transit garage on Strasburg Road.
So far, the region isn't losing money, and it says it will jump ship before it does.
"So the taxpayer needn't feel that there is a harm to them. The larger harm is in our inability to assist the province with electricity generation," but Sosnoski says there could be greater benefit to taxpayers though if it proceeded as originally planned.
The Region had hoped to make nearly $5 million profit. A drop in the bucket compared to the County of Brant where they are still very bullish on solar.
"We're hoping that when they embrace 20 megawatts of power, they'll get $100 million over 20 years," says Peter Black of Brant Renewable Energy.
For now, though, they wait. Along with Burns, who's taking odd jobs to make ends meet, "I'm trying to last as long as possible," he says.
CTV News contacted the Minister of Energy to ask when the review might be complete. A spokesperson will only say that it's expected in the first quarter of 2012. Could be tomorrow, could be April.