Solar companies may exit Ontario for Alberta after Doug Ford kills rebate program

The solar energy industry could be moving more investment to Alberta as changes loom to Ontario's green energy programs, according to many attending the Solar Canada 2018 conference in Calgary. 

Incoming Ontario premier Doug Ford is eliminating that province's GreenON program, which provided incentives like rebates for solar panels to those looking to make their homes more energy efficient.

That has many in the industry looking both west and south for their next moves, according to Ed Knaggs, vice-president at HES PV.

"I think Alberta's going to be the next focus point," said Knaggs, whose company sells solar equipment.

"[Installers] are going to pick their business up. They've established a really nice business in Ontario … and they were hoping to just continue that business and continue its growth in Ontario but now they're probably going to have to move it."

'All of that money … is going to Alberta'

Other exhibitors at the conference shared Knaggs' impressions.

"There was a ton of investment coming into Ontario," said Todd Marron, North American sales manager for Toronto-based SolarWall. The company makes solar heating systems for buildings and will now concentrate on other markets, including Alberta.

"All of that money in Ontario is going to Alberta right now. Or back to the safe haven of California," said Marron.

However, some exhibitors were not as bullish on western markets. Martin Pochtaruk, the president of Heliene Inc., a solar manufacturer with Canadian operations based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., admits Ford's changes to the rebate program are "killing" the business models for solar installers in his province, but says they've been hearing Alberta touted as a growth market for four or five years already.

"Will there be installations in Alberta? We can only hope. But that doesn't feed the people that need to eat every day that work in that industry today," he said.

Exhibition outside Ontario for first time

The Solar Canada conference is being held outside of Ontario for the first time ever, after running for more than 20 years in the eastern province. Industry momentum toward Alberta is one part of why the conference moved to Calgary for 2018 and 2019, according to John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Solar Industries Association.

"Alberta [has the] best solar resource in Canada. The most available free fuel. Extremely sunny regime — 25 per cent more sun than Ontario," said Gorman.

"All of the investment that really was flowing into Ontario, if it pauses too long it's going to continue to flow out west and into other global markets," he added.

New rules to encourage Alberta solar

Despite that, many at the Solar Expo said they do not expect sunny skies on the Prairies for long. With an election scheduled for next year in Alberta, environmental programs in the province could also be on the chopping block.

Speaking at the conference on Wednesday, Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen said the province is working on changing the procurement process for renewable energy projects so that solar electricity proposals are encouraged. That process is expected to formally launch in August and be completed before the end of 2018.

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