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Cut Red Tape, Make Rooftop Panels the Cheapest Power Source, Solar Industry Urges Ontario

The Canadian solar industry is urging the Ontario government to trim or eliminate red tape that is driving up the cost of connecting rooftop panels to the electricity grid.

Last June, the new Doug Ford regime cancelled 759 renewable energy projects, 738 of them solar installations, claiming it was out to cut the cost of new electricity supplies. At the time, under the now-defunct Green Energy Act, renewable energy projects received a contract price of 22¢ per kilowatt-hour, higher than the 7 to 18¢ Ontario residents actually pay, CBC reports.

But John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), is arguing solar could be the province’s cheapest electricity source if the grid connection process were streamlined. While Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia have all made progress on net metering rules that allow customers to sell their surplus power back to the grid, Ontario is far behind: the province’s 60 municipal and regional utilities each have their own grid connection processes and contracts, some of which can run up to 80 pages and take months to implement.

“We’re moving to a free market where everyone has the right to connect,” and “it can either be simple or very difficult,” Gorman said. “There is a real urgency to do this. The government wants to help farmers and homeowners save on electricity. This is a way of building capacity that does not draw on the tax base,” since the capital cost is borne by the homeowner or the private sector.

That’s an important consideration in a province where Ontario Power Generation “already has high debt charges from its nuclear system,” CBC notes.

As things stand, Gorman said the impact of Ontario’s cancelled contracts fell on the First Nations, non-profits, municipal buildings, schools, and individual homeowners who lost the opportunity to cut their electricity costs. Resco Energy President Fidel Reijerse said those are precisely the user groups the benefit the most from a simplified net metering program.

“Only the large projects are able to handle the bureaucratic burden and are able to move forward,” he said. “A large swath of customers have been discouraged by regulation—everyone from the small business to the homeowner wanting solar on the roof.”

He added that the solar industry has been lobbying several provincial ministries, but primarily Ford’s office—and the government elected on a pledge to cut red tape seems receptive. “In the solar industry, we don’t require money, just a change of regulations,” Reijerse said.

When Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips released his much-maligned climate plan in late November, CanSIA was one of the organizations that spoke up in its favour. “The Canadian solar industry welcomes the Government of Ontario’s clear endorsement of solar energy technology in the made-in-Ontario environment plan, as one of our solutions to mitigating and adapting to climate change,” Gorman said at the time.