Developer Says Government Policy Must Pave the Road to Canadian Solar

Solar Farm

By Arman Kazemi

November 20, 2014

A Swiss-based solar developer with strong local ties is looking to make a big move in Canada.

Etrion Corporation, partly owned by the Vancouver-based Lundin Group of mining companies, boasts a solar portfolio with 130 megawatts  of capacity in Italy and Chile, with another 34 MW project under construction in Japan.

In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, Etrion’s CEO Marco Northland discussed the company’s vision to expand in the Americas, noting a particular interest in Canada’s nascent solar market.

“My dream would be to have something concrete developing in Canada by the end of next year,” Northland told the Globe and Mail, “and then to be in a position where we are actually building [a project] in 2016,”

As opposed to the three countries where Etrion currently operates – where energy is expensive, power is net imported and “investment returns are high” – incumbent energy is relatively cheap in Canada, and there are few government incentives to pursue alternative sources.

That poses a few challenges for anyone looking to make a profit on Canadian solar.

The constant decline in solar equipment costs has meant that grid parity is attainable in many regions around the world.

With its healthy government programs and abundance of solar resources, Australia has achieved this feat in the past. And previous studies have touted the efforts of Germany and the U.S. for fostering strong long-term PV markets.

But Canada, according to Northland, isn’t there quite yet.

As was seen when Italy cut back its generous solar feed-in-tariff  – a policy change that contributed to the company’s uninspired third quarter earnings – Etrion continues to be highly dependent on robust feed-in-tariff revenues complemented by long-term power purchase agreements, and it says as much on its own website.

That’s probably why Northland lauded Ontario’s own successful feed-in-tariff program as a model for the rest of the country. According to him, the feed-in-tariff model helps create domestic industry expertise, “as well as an effective regulatory and permitting framework.”

As the cost of equipment declines, solar grid parity will become attainable for a wider range of geographies, including Canada, where “solar radiation isn’t great.”

“In the meantime,” Northland insists, “what’s crucial to keep the solar sector healthy… is having consistent, long-term policies in place” so that companies like Etrion looking to invest domestically “can plan their projects with confidence.”