Ontario’s decision to require local labour and gear for 40 to 5o per cent of a solar project’s content has ruffled some feathers in Europe. The province’s government created the Made-in-Ontario rules in parallel with the design of its feed-in tariff program for renewables, which for solar PV pays up to 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a hefty premium, so to justify it to Ontario ratepayers (who will ultimately be picking up the tab) the government created the local content rules as a way to tout the economic benefits that would come from increased investment and green-job creation.
Germany’s solar industries association, BSW-Solar, doesn’t like that very much. It has issued a position statement to its members, including some of the biggest solar PV module manufacturers in the world, urging them to raise their concern with Canadian and Ontario authorities. A European Union trade delegation also raised the issue during trade talks in Ottawa last week. Technically, however, I’m not so sure Ontario’s rules violate World Trade Organization agreements, as BSW-Solar claims. For one, the rules only apply to a portion of a project — not 100 per cent — so this doesn’t preclude any specific product made in Europe. Second, Ontario has not signed onto any WTO agreement regarding product procurement, and it’s doubtful whether this issue falls under a procurement scenario.
And let’s face it, even though Germany didn’t have specified local content targets, this is a cultural given. And because Germany was a first mover in Europe, and to a large extent globally, it really didn’t have to compete with many jurisdictions. It’s likely that BSW-Solar is worried that the German government’s plans to start lowering subsidies for solar will draw attention away from Germany and toward jurisdictions such as Ontario. It will, however, be interesting to see if this issue gets elevated to being a formal complaint filed with the WTO.