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A solar panel in operation on a farm in Southwestern Ontario. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)
A solar panel in operation on a farm in Southwestern Ontario. (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)

Solar industry urged to push back against nuclear ‘attack’ Add to ...

Canada’s solar power industry needs to market itself more aggressively to counter “misinformation” spread by the nuclear power business, the head of the country’s solar association said Monday.

Claims by the nuclear industry that it is more economical and just as clean as renewable energy sources are essentially an “attack” on solar and need to be countered, said John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association.

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“Make no mistake about it, renewable energy, and increasingly solar energy, is under attack,” he told delegates to a solar energy conference in Toronto. Misinformation “is being spread by a small number of short-sighted politicians and by competing industries that see the writing on the wall.”

The Canadian Nuclear Association and the Ontario Power Workers Union have recently been vocal in promoting nuclear power, labelling renewables such as wind and solar as “intermittent” and expensive, and encouraging more investment in nuclear.

Mr. Gorman said the intense worldwide growth in solar power seems to have prompted a negative response from more traditional energy producers. “What we are seeing is that conventional energy sources – and nuclear is leading the pack on this – are positioning themselves in contrast to renewable energy, and in some cases against it,” he said after his speech.

A much better approach would be to see renewables working together with traditional energy sources, instead of competing with them, he said. He noted that solar works very well as a complement to gas-powered electricity generation, because a gas plant can be quickly cranked up when the sunlight fades. Solar’s distributed nature, where it can be generated at almost any location, is also a huge advantage, he said, and will become more important as solar panel prices fall.

“People realize there is going to be a redistribution of the energy mix, and no one has quite got their head around how everyone is going to work together,” he said. Consequently, “we are seeing a lot of reactionary messaging from some of those traditional sources.” The key for the solar industry is to get out and “tell our story,” he said.

Doug Urban, managing director of the Canadian operation of South Korean solar manufacturer Hanwha Solar, told the conference that incremental increases in electricity demand can be much better met by installing solar panels, rather than building huge new nuclear power plants. And if Canada can support home-growth nuclear technology, it should be able to support a domestic solar manufacturing scene, he added.

Still, many in the industry are worried about a recent World Trade Organization ruling which may make it necessary for Ontario to dismantle the local content provisions of its Green Energy Act, which require developers to buy a certain portion of their solar or wind equipment in the province. Many industry players are also concerned about a possible change in policy in the province – which has actively promoted renewables – because of the pending retirement of Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.

That has prompted one large solar developer, SkyPower Global, to shift its focus out of Ontario to international markets.

Solar is “at a precarious point here in Ontario,” SkyPower CEO Kerry Adler told the conference. “We are exiting Ontario. We are selling our pipeline. We are focusing our energies in more stable markets around the world.” Ontario was a “great learning ground....[but] we have no intention of investing any further in Ontario until the political situation is clarified,” he said.

Mike Dilworth, Canadian country manager for California solar power developer SunEdison, said he is more optimistic about the Canadian market, but the country needs a long-term energy plan so the companies working here have some stability.

Mr. Dilworth also said he thinks there are good markets for solar elsewhere in Canada outside of Ontario now that the price of solar panels has fallen dramatically. Alberta and Saskatchewan both have strong solar resources (meaning lots of sunlight), he said, and Nova Scotia has set aggressive targets for a shift to renewables so it could be a good market in the future.

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