Solar company finds “green gold” in Ontario
Ontario is increasingly being recognized as North America’s top destination for green energy investment. Since October 2003, the province has brought more than 1,200 MW of new renewable energy on-line, according to the provincial government, with new renewable energy projects—already in place or under construction in Ontario since 2003—representing a total investment of over $4.6 billion. Much of the latest investment is is in large part due to the Green Energy Act (GEA), launched in 2009, and in particular the Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program, which the provincial government says boost investment in renewable energy projects, such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass and biogas.
By John Gilson
One company that has taken advantage of the province’s pro-green energy policies is Silfab Spa, an Italian-based multi-national that develops and manufactures photovoltaic (PV) components and systems that span the entire PV value chain.
Franco Traverso, the CEO of Silfab, has been involved in the renewables market since the early 1980s. Earlier this year, he decided to travel throughout Canada in search of the ideal location to build a solar module manufacturing plant.
“In April 2009, I travelled throughout Canada, looking for the ideal location to build a solar plant. Due in large part to the Green Energy Act and Feed-in Tariff program, we decided that Ontario would be the perfect place to build our facility.”
Shortly thereafter, the company has registered the new Canadian subsidiary, Silfab Ontario Inc., and has located and secured a 100,000-sq.ft property in Mississauga, Ontario for its 180 MW solar module manufacturing plant with an investment of $15 million for Phase 1of production (60 MW), which is scheduled to be completed early next year. The City of Mississauga was chosen in large part due to the city’s easy accessibility to major highways and Pearson International Airport. Since making the move to Ontario, the company has already broadened its business model, with the recent announcement that it will accommodate Ontario-based PV module OEM manufacturing and international solar companies seeking to enter the Ontario market.
The new fully automated manufacturing facility—which Silfab Ontario Inc. says will be operated by about 200 Canadian skilled workers (at plant full capacity)—and equipped with the most advanced technologies, will be part of the company’s network of strategic synergies with global partners and shareholders Pan Asia Solar Ltd. (PAS) and Sino-American Silicon Products Inc. (SAS). Due to these partnerships, the company says it will have access to a secure supply chain that will not only guarantee consistent availability of raw material throughout the production period—including high-performing ingots, wafers, and cells—but will also enable the new Canadian company to be one of the few companies to offer competitive products at a secure locked price.
When asked what he thinks about Ontario’s GEA and FIT program, Traverso said that Ontario is on the right track. In particular, he thinks the domestic component of the GEA will guarantee that jobs are produced—and kept—in Ontario. As of January 1, 2011, if a company wants to take advantage of FIT it will need to produce 60% of its product in the province—a rise from 50% this year.
“The Green Energy Act is a good tool—the best way—to create green jobs,” said Traverso. “It is well crafted and well designed, particularly the domestic requirement, which is the only way for the government to ensure that the jobs are created here.”
Traverso believes the rest of Canada, and especially the United States, would do well emulating Ontario’s green energy model. In fact, his only great concern with the GEA and FIT program is that there may be some loopholes in the domestic requirements, which could be taken advantage of by unscrupulous foreign nationals who could care less about creating jobs in the province.
“There are certain groups who are attempting to bypass the domestic content,” said Traverso. “I hope the government authorities will watch this. Industry is moving to Ontario, which is a good thing, but the government has to keep its efforts credible.”