Green energy sector not cheering Tory win

OTTAWA, CANADA - The renewable energy sector is likely one of the few spheres of Canada's business community that is unsettled about a Conservative majority government in Ottawa.

After years of providing lukewarm support for green power while running a minority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is unlikely to suddenly change his stripes, particularly when he has full control of the House of Commons, industry executives said.

"The Tory government has not exactly been a global leader on environmental issues," said Phil Whiting, chief executive officer of EnerWorks Inc., a Dorchester, Ont.-based company that makes solar-thermal equipment. "I expect them to do the minimum they can get away with in this area."

Mr. Whiting said he hopes the government sticks with the minor extensions of some incentives that were included in the federal budget last month. But the Conservatives have shown "minimalistic investments" in renewable energy over all, and only under pressure from the opposition parties, and that's likely to get worse, he said.

"The Tory government is not well known for its global level, insightful, inspiring leadership on environmental issues," Mr. Whiting said. "Quite the opposite. Everything that I've seen about them says they do only what they have to in order to survive."

Given that "no democratic government in today's world can get away with doing nothing," Mr. Whiting said he expects the Conservative government will take small measures to make it appear as if it is doing something, but that it will not show leadership on the issue.

Thomas Schneider, president of wind-farm operator Schneider Power Inc. in Toronto, said he is concerned that the Conservatives had no specific renewable energy component in their election platform. Consequently, he is not optimistic the industry will get any sort of significant support from the new government.

One hope, he said, is that the Conservative focus on infrastructure investments might mean some increased spending on electrical transmission capacity, an area that needs help if renewable power facilities are going to be able to plug into the power grid.

"I hope that even though they are not very jived about renewable energy, that they do something about transmission," Mr. Schneider said. He also hopes that the New Democratic Party, which has a strong environmental platform, will be able to put increased pressure on the government now that it has Official Opposition status.

If there is a silver lining for the renewable energy sector in the Conservatives gaining a majority as a result of seat gains in Ontario, it may be that the government will be less beholden to its conservative backers in the oil patch, said John Kourtoff, president of Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind Corp., which is planning major wind projects in the Great Lakes.

"Maybe now that Mr. Harper isn't always on the tether of his Western base, he might be able to do what's right for each province and not so much have to always play to the [West]," said Mr. Kourtoff, whose projects are on hold because of a moratorium on offshore wind put in place by the Ontario provincial government.

His hope for the new government is that even if it refuses to consider direct financial support to renewable projects, it might help finance transmission lines or provide low-cost loans to early stage companies.

Ted Lattimore, chief executive officer of solar lighting company Carmanah Technologies Corp., CMH-T in Victoria, said that simply having Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the House of Commons could raise the profile of the renewable sector. "Having Green Party official representation — and a well-spoken one — maybe the average person will become a little more familiar with renewable energy policy and that might make it more attractive for the Conservative government."


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