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January 22, 2013
TORONTO, ON, Jan. 22, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Getting a green energy community project off the ground in Ontario is a nightmare – and all because of a mistake made in the Green Energy Act and bureaucratic red tape.
Most of us know why a bank gives preferential treatment to large business customers over small ones. The time and effort required to assess a loan application for a major corporation is more or less the same as needed for a single outlet retailer or other small company – but the amounts involved (hence the revenues gained) are much greater with the big firm’s application.)
The same happens with green power generation in Ontario.
Small community power co-ops ought to be a natural fit for green energy. An individual house just doesn’t have the roof capacity or space (usually) to house and care for the battery system required to make one-unit solar installations worthwhile.
A community plant – like one using the roof surface of a school or a retail space – uses the supply/demand equation differently. Less expense and worry goes into storing energy and more into its use during peak-load pricing periods in the day. The Green Energy Act also lays out the terms under which the power excess to demand can be sold to the grid. For a resident, buying into the co-op is more affordable and makes more sense than an individual installation.
But the co-op has to be allowed to operate, and therein lies the challenge.
Unfortunately, the bureaucrats who approve community power co-ops are the same ones who approve giant solar farms in the Ontario countryside. Much of the opposition to the Green Energy Act outside of the grumbling when hydro bills arrive comes from rural Ontario, where solar and wind farms get sited. And like the aforementioned bankers, the bureaucrats have the same amount of work to do whether it’s an application for 200 hectares of solar panels in a field or 50 individual solar panels on a roof – and whether it’s megawatts of power into the grid, or the possibility of a trickle left over from co-op participants’ own consumption.
Co-ops in Toronto report it sometimes takes more than four years to get approval to operate. Artificial restrictions seem to blossom like weeds choking and slowing the process. Co-operatives also require that a different bureaucracy approve their structure and incorporation as a not-for-profit society, and the requirements of the two streams – energy and incorporation – don’t mesh well.
Ontario supposedly looked at the most successful green energy promotion schemes worldwide in framing its act. Yet Germany, a country noted humorously for its bureaucratic rigidity, makes it dead simple for co-ops like these to be created: infrastructure gets built and the power starts flowing much faster than in to Ontario.
Couldn’t we have simply copied what’s working? The Germans as of May 2012 get almost 20 per cent of their national electrical power from solar installations, mostly of the rooftop co-op type. In Ontario, despite enthusiastic communities, we’re getting practically nothing but a trickle of power from anything other than big solar farms.
That is what happens when you organize your Green Energy Act around an industrial partnership model rather than a community model.
Community resilience would be greatly enhanced by encouraging the co-ops in the communities, themselves: ideas like SolarShare are good (make an investment as an individual to develop and profit from a large-scale solar farm), but the shorter the link between production and use the better. And, a reduction in grumbling over the power bill would be achieved if community co-ops could get operational quickly – it would also make solar power more visible everywhere.)
Ontario’s new premier might want to consider how to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make these co-ops happen quickly . . . and before the public decides the whole green energy initiative is meaningless to them.
Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.
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