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B.C. exporting solar innovation

By Sara Norman

Solar panels in Chile that fuel an entire iron ore mine. (REUTERS)

Solar panels in Chile that fuel an entire iron ore mine. (REUTERS)

The public won’t be seeing solar panels around the Lower Mainland anytime soon. Despite growing popularity south of the border, the use of solar energy in B.C. is still minimal, according to one University of B.C. expert who says that isn’t likely to change.

Dr. Martin Ordonez says hydro-power generation in B.C. is already significant, clean and low-cost — so it’s hard for electric companies to justify moving to other alternative sources.

But Ben West of ForestEthics says that’s no excuse. He claims B.C. industrial demands for power are increasing to well beyond the amount currently available from hydro generation. That has West seeing red, especially given the thousands of empty rooftops around the Lower Mainland that have the potential to be outfitted with panels.

“Our government has been bullish in going after opportunities for liquefied natural gas and yet there’s this huge opportunity to be part of the big push towards solar right now. It just feels very wasteful and shortsighted,” West said.

Homeowners should be angry as well, according to West, who stresses they’re missing out on opportunities to subsidize their utility bills by selling sun-generated power back to electricity companies. While it is technically possible to set up panels on homes in the Lower Mainland, West says it’s difficult to set up a solar energy purchase agreement. He’s calling on the provincial and federal governments to make alternative energy a priority and create incentives to get more people on board.

Ordonez calls B.C. an interesting case. He says companies are cashing in on solar energy by creating “technology innovation that’s not used here, but exported to other countries.”

West says that’s a shame — using B.C.-grown technology at home should be a priority at all levels of government.  

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