Green sector in the red

By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star – May 15, 2012

Last week’s closure of the Siliken solar panel factory is, sad to say, probably a harbinger of things to come in Windsor’s still budding “green” energy sector.

Last month it was the WindTronics turbine factory that closed, taking down with it a $2.7-million grant from provincial taxpayers and putting 50 employees out of work. It never did employ the 200 people it promised to hire.
Michigan-based WindTronics blamed the province of Ontario for its lack of growth; they say the McGuinty government reneged on its own promise to pay consumers high rates for wind-generated power, crushing demand for WindTronics’ products after it opened the plant.
Today it’s Siliken closing up shop, largely for the same reasons the turbine company did, and other solar companies are known to be struggling locally. How many more of the city’s green startups will succumb to the industry’s pullback?
It’s uncomfortable saying this when hundreds of anxious people’s jobs depend on the survival of the green gravy train. But it appears the industry and many of the people in it are on a collision course with economic reality.
Not only are these heavily subsidized experiments in alternative energy proving to be unaffordable in one country after another in Europe, the evidence suggests they are actually costing us jobs, rather than creating new ones.
The increases in industrial energy prices in Ontario caused by “green” energy are almost certainly putting people out of work by making manufacturing uneconomic here, according to the Opposition Progressive Conservatives. Energy costs are the top cost pressure on small-and medium-sized Ontario employers, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reported in February.
No wonder Ontario has hastily scaled back its plans to subsidize tens of thousands of private “micro-fit” wind and solar installations.
Did you know that 88 homes in Windsor already have solar installations hooked to the grid, according to Enwin Utilities? Or that 600 additional applications have been made for hookups and subsidies?
With the bloom now off the solar rose, they probably won’t all get permission for a hookup, and with those denials even more of the subsidized jobs will disappear.
Hundreds of larger solar installations on farms all across Essex County and southern Ontario still remain disconnected from the grid, each of them representing at least $80,000 in stranded, unproductive capital investment.
Why? With Ontario edging ever closer to the economic abyss, even the deficit-mad McGuinty government has found it impossible to follow through on its promise to pay all comers up to 13 times the going rate for power if they produced electrons from solar panels.
(Solar, by the way, is only one of the seven expensive and holy sacraments of the new environmentalist state religion. The others, in my view, are recycling, bicycling, mass transit, composting, organics and wind power.)
The economic case against so-called renewable power grows ever more dire in Ontario. The latest bad news is that the province lost jobs last month while most other provinces gained.
In California, which also worships the same environmental neo-religion, state authorities panicked a few days ago when their annual deficit hit $16 billion. That’s the same deficit Ontario has – and we have less than one-third their population. If California knows it’s in deep economic trouble, shouldn’t Ontario, too, since things are three times worse here?
Given the high unemployment in this region, Windsor didn’t have much choice but to jump onto this bandwagon when it rolled into town a few years ago.
But even if the first car-charging station is being christened here with fanfare on Wednesday, at this point it’s pretty clear the city and Essex County should not pretend this new industry will diversify our economy much.
* * *
General Motors of Canada says my Saturday column was half a bubble off on two facts.
They say the Buick Regal with e-assist, in production in Oshawa since last fall, fulfils the company’s commitment to build a hybrid vehicle in Canada. This was a surprise to me since GM never, ever uses the word hybrid to describe the car. And it’s a disappointment because I was hoping to see a hybrid version of the nextgen Equinox.
Either way, at this point the company has no plans to build another hybrid in Canada, says Faye Roberts, director of communications for GM Canada.
Also, Roberts says Oshawa’s consolidated line will not be retooled to build the new Impala, as I wrote.
The new Impala will be added to the plant’s other line, the flex line. GM intends to one day close the consolidated line for good, although significantly, no date has been set for its last job. (So I’m not wrong about that … yet!)
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