Ban on solar panels could cost Ontario $5 billion in investments

A solar industry lobby group says the provincial government is throwing away $5 billion in viable investments by banning solar panels from prime agricultural land.

This week, the provincial government announced that solar panels will be banned from the top two tier classes of farmland (A1 and A2) except for smaller ground-mounted panel arrangements that produce 100 kilowatts of energy or less. Panels that generate up to 500 megawatts will be allowed on A3 class lands.

The president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), Elizabeth McDonald, is concerned that the provincial government’s announced limitations to farmland use threaten the future of solar energy in Ontario.

McDonald said that if the province decides to halt the development of solar energy, these projects will go to other provinces or countries since “investment goes where it’s most conducive.”

But Don McCabe, the vice-president for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) which represents approximately 37,000 farm families across the province, said that CanSIA should be looking elsewhere when it comes to solar energy development.

McCabe affirmed that his membership is not against solar power, but he said that the OFA – which represents nine in 10 farmers in Ontario – doesn’t want to see the province’s most valuable (A1 and A2) agricultural land “wasted” by energy companies.

“Why are they (CanSIA) asking for the best farmland for development?” McCabe said. “I can live a day without turning the light switch on, but I can’t live a day without eating. This is why farmland shouldn’t be taken from active production.”

McCabe said that CanSIA should develop solar energy projects on lands that are least suitable for agriculture.

Farmland in Ontario is classified for crop growth based on a variety of factors.  Land is ranked from A1, A2, etc. to A7.

Class A1 – Most suitable for crop growth

  • Receives the most sunlight.
  • Relatively flat, easy to develop.
  • Best soil conditions for crop growth.

Class A7 – Least suitable for crop growth

  • Receives the least amount of sunlight
  • Roughest terrain, requires heaviest development to become viable farmland
  • Poorest soil conditions for crop growth

“They (CanSIA) should develop on lands A5 through A7 because they cannot be effectively used for agriculture,” McCabe said.

McDonald argued that CanSIA is only asking for the province to allow development on 0.11 per cent of prime agricultural land. She also said that solar industry developers are not asking the government to allow development in the protected Greenbelt land.

PC energy critic John Yakabuski is skeptical of McDonald’s claims.

“We shouldn’t be using prime lands for that sort of development,” he said. “Keep in mind solar power isn’t a reliable source of energy – what if the sun isn’t shining?”

McDonald argued that allowing solar power development will give farmers the extra opportunity to monetize their lands, but Yakabuski doesn’t think solar power makes economic sense.

“The government is offering 42 cents per kilowatt hour for solar electricity,” he said. “This is almost 10 times the cost of regulated energy we get from other sources, such as nuclear. Who can afford that?”

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