Thanks to the Green Energy Act, Ontario is rapidly becoming the leading solar energy producer in North America. Canada’s first fully operational large scale solar installation, in Stone Mills, Ontario, began to produce clean power last fall, and two more sites are now slated for construction.
First Light Solar Park, the 48-hectare site at Stone Mills, generates 9.1 Megawatts of clean electricity. Kerry Adler, Chief Executive Officer of SkyPower, who, along with SunEdison, developed the park, said this is a significant milestone for Canada. “It is also a testament to the great things that can be achieved when private enterprise, the Ontario government, and the local community work together through innovative public policy.”
Jason Gray, Canadian Manager for SunEdison, favours Eastern Ontario for these types of projects because of the region’s excellent grid connections. According to Gray, the Stone Mills solar project was good for the company, and “we’re happy to be back.”
SunEdison COO, Carlos Domenech, sees First Light Solar Park as only the first step in its plans to develop more rooftop and ground-mount solar installations. He hopes the province’s FIT program will encourage more solar development. “Our efforts provide a clear example of how companies can work with government and community organizations to protect endangered species while generating clean renewable energy and delivering greater environmental benefits,” he said.
Solar Panel Courses a Passport to Green Jobs
Because of its favourable climate, both political and environmental, SunEdison and SkyPower announced this spring their investment in two more major solar installations at Sandhurst, south of Napannee.
These two new projects, which will cover an area of about 120 hectares, will be built at an estimated cost of $50m. Because of the highly technical nature of the work, many of the workers employed in the construction and subsequent maintenance of the solar installation will need specific PV installation training, engineering classes, and other solar panel courses.
One of the requirements of the Green Energy Act is that a substantial portion (50% for solar projects, 25% for wind projects) of the materials and equipment used for the construction and operation be manufactured in Ontario. Although the government was predicting as many as 50,000 new jobs for the province, studies published by the Green Energy Act Alliance indicate anything from 35,000 to 90,000 new jobs per year, depending on investment and the approach. Given the huge potential for solar power generation in Ontario, many of these jobs will be open only to people who have the requisite training in solar panel and PV installation.
A direct result of SunEdison’s solar park ventures is a new contract with an (as yet unnamed) auto parts manufacturer in Windsor to produce the racks for these new solar parks. “We’ve been so impressed with the manufacturing expertise down there, and certainly the pricing, that we’ll actually be exporting racking from that facility to the U.S. later this year,” said Gray.
Shortage of Skilled PV Installation Trained Workers throughout the Province
The direct result of the Green Energy Act, besides clean power, the elimination of Mega tonnes of CO2 and the corresponding mercury and uranium pollution, will be a much brighter economic and social future for Eastern Ontario. Many of these new green jobs will be high paying, providing area residents welcome relief from near minimum wage call centres. The challenge for the solar industry will be how to offer adequate PV training, both in solar panel installation and maintenance, to provide local workers the skills needed to fill these positions.