Ontario government might ban solar power panels from farmland

About $5 billion in potential investment could goelsewhere if Ontario bans solar panels from prime agricultural lands,the Canadian Solar Industries Association warned Tuesday.

 

TORONTO - About $5 billion in potential investment could go
elsewhere if Ontario bans solar panels from prime agricultural lands,
the Canadian Solar Industries Association warned Tuesday.

 

The
government refused to confirm that it will ban solar panels from class
A1, A2 and A3 farm lands when it announces regulations later this week
for its Green Energy Act, but that's what the industry is hearing, said
association president Elizabeth McDonald.

 

The problem with a
ban, said McDonald, is those farmlands also tend to be the ones that
get the most sunshine, and they often provide easy access to the
electricity grid.

 

“This agricultural land tends to be close to
the transmission lines and, yes, sun is important for agriculture as
well as for solar,” McDonald said in an interview.

“All we've
said we need is .11 per cent of the agricultural land in Ontario, and
much of this land isn't being used right now (for farming).”

That
works out to about 20,000 acres (81 square kilometres) of land, some of
which is already used for alternative energy production such as growing
corn for ethanol, said McDonald.

Imposing a ban could scuttle
large-scale solar farms projects in Ontario, which McDonald said have
the potential to create 10,000 long-term jobs, and in the process, help
train local workers for the green economy.

“You take a lot of
people and teach them how to mount panels, etc., and then often . . .
these are the people who become the local installers in the town or
cities,” she said, citing the experience with solar farms in several
European countries.

“(A ban) is going to limit growth and with that goes the jobs and manufacturing potential, etc.”

Solar
panels also provide rental income to farmers, and the companies have
plans to decommission the solar farms after 20 years and return the
land for agricultural use, said McDonald.

“We're very willing to do whatever studies that might be requested when we go into areas,” she said.

The
Liberal government will unveil the regulations to support its highly
touted Green Energy Act later this week, which will also include such
things as mandatory set-backs from residential areas for industrial
wind turbines.

Solar power companies have been anxiously waiting
for the regulations, which could be the deciding factor for whether or
not new solar farm projects get off the ground in Ontario or move to
the growing U.S. market for alternative energy supplies, said McDonald.

“Companies are sitting here trying to make up their minds,” she said.

“The
competition is increasing and companies will be saying `is there enough
of a market to stay in Ontario or are we going to go elsewhere where it
might be less onerous?”'

A spokeswoman for Energy Minister
George Smitherman wouldn't comment Tuesday on the potential ban on
solar panels, and said any such restrictions would be announced as part
of the regulations for the Green Energy Act.

 
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