Samsung deal: Criticism justified, but missing the bigger picture
I have a column in today’s Toronto Star that’s bound to upset a number of solar and wind developers, and the investors behind them. I argue that the $7 billion Samsung deal announced last week in Ontario isn’t a bad deal at all, and that Ontario was right to jump on the opportunity when it presented itself. The deal is controversial because the government gave Samsung an “economic adder” that amounts to a 4 per cent premium (on a price per kilowatt-hour basis) to existing feed-in-tariffs available to other solar and wind developers. The government also set aside 500 megawatts of transmission capacity for Samsung, which in addition to building four manufacturing plants (wind blades, wind towers, solar inverters and solar modules) also wants to deploy 2,000 megawatts of wind and 500 megawatts of solar in Ontario.
Samsung has said publicly that it plans to become the largest maker of solar panels by 2015, and wants to become a major player in wind. The fact that it chose Ontario as the launchpad is significant. This is a huge deal, and while not perfect, it has the potential to bring tremendous long-term benefits to Ontario. Sure, other developers would love the special treatment Samsung got, but have those developers been willing to step up, develop a comprehensive supply chain, and sign a deal that commits them to X amount of renewables and create X thousand amounts of jobs? My only big criticism of this deal is that the government may be overlooking some amazing Ontario-made opportunities — local consortia who have big plans but can’t seem to get the attention and support of the Ontario government. This apparent lack of confidence in local entrepreneurs and investors doesn’t send a good signal. Premier Dalton McGuinty needs to do a much better job of nurturing and having confidence in local ventures, even if they lack the deep pockets and brand appeal of an anchor tenant like Samsung.
Were smaller developers in Ontario betrayed? I can see why they think so, but I don’t recall anyone in the current government ever saying the feed-in-tariff program is the only way they will sign up renewables (or any source of power generation) in the future. What the feed-in tariff program and Green Energy Act does is let these developers access the program, equally, without having to go through an expensive RFP process. The fact is the FIT program, as it is, is more than generous to these developers. And while transmission is scarce, there’s a solid commitment to build more. So there is a bigger picture here, one that needs to be put into perspective.
Okay, let’s open this one up to some civil debated…