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Energy and Resources Nearly 200 clean-tech companies urge Ottawa to boost industry funding

File photo of Canadian Solar panels in Guelph, Ont.

Canadian Solar Inc.

Almost 200 clean technology companies from across Canada have written to the federal government, asking for a dramatic increase in government support for the industry, far beyond what was included in last month's budget.

The group, which includes members from clean-tech alliances in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday, recommending increased funding. The letter expresses support for the clean-tech spending sprinkled through the federal budget, but asks for specific and focused additions to help the sector compete globally.

The group wants Ottawa to make four specific investments: Set up a $1-billion loan guarantee program that would support early stage projects; create a $500-million venture capital program; invest $1.25-billion to expand and restructure the existing programs under Sustainable Development Technology Canada; and introduce the same kind of tax credits the mining and oil and gas industries now have.

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The global market for clean technologies is worth more than $1-trillion, the letter notes, but it says Canada is losing ground despite significant growth here.

"While Canada's clean-tech industry has shown impressive growth in absolute terms, we are losing global market share to increasing competition from the United States, China, Germany, Singapore, Israel and other jurisdictions that are investing billions to compete in the global race for clean-tech talent and capital," the letter said.

The signatories include executives from large successful companies such Guelph, Ont.-based Canadian Solar Inc., which has annual revenue of $3.5-billion (U.S.), and other well-known firms such as Ballard Power Systems Inc., Hydrogenics Corp. and Boralex Inc. But it is also signed by representative of dozens of small startups working in the engineering, wind, water and solar sectors, and some clean-tech investment firms.

Jonathan Rhone, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based waste-water treatment firm Axine Water Technologies Inc., said the industry is pleased that the new government in Ottawa is now supportive of clean technology "after many years where investing in innovation broadly, and clean tech specifically, has really not been a priority."

But the people running companies understand what policies would assist the most, and they wanted to give Ottawa some direction, he said. "The industry is very united in what we think are the priorities that the government should invest in, that are going to have the highest impact in helping our sector." It was "dead easy" to get a consensus, even among almost 200 executives, he added.

If the government concentrates on the four specific areas of support, that will help many companies get products to market, Mr. Rhone said. "We have a tendency in Canada to take a dollar and split it into 150 pieces and make sure everybody gets a little bit," he said, but that doesn't have the impact that can be achieved "if we really focused our efforts."

In an e-mail, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the government knows "the environment and the economy go hand in hand" and it "has committed to supporting clean economic growth." The move toward a low-carbon economy provides big opportunities for Canadian firms, she said, and the budget "provided significant investment in infrastructure and clean technology development."

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The letter from the clean-tech firms stems from a recent agreement among the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance, Écotech Québec, the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance and Ontario's MaRS Discovery District, to co-ordinate their lobbying efforts.

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