Keith Brooks
Guest Column, Guelph Mercury
 
Canadian Solar hosted a job fair at its Guelph facility on Friday to hire 500 people to manufacture solar panels.
 
The jobs are a direct result of the Green Energy Act, which requires that solar panels must contain 60 per cent Ontario content in order to be eligible for the feed-in tariff, which offers a good rate of return to solar power generators.
 
On the surface, the job fair and the plant opening are good news for Guelph. Five hundred jobs is nothing to sneeze at, and manufacturing has long been central to Guelph’s economy.
 
Lately, that news about manufacturing has primarily been bad news, what with plant closures, layoffs and the like. A good news story is rare, and one of this magnitude is important. When it is at full production, Canadian Solar will be one of the 20 largest employers in Guelph.
 
But beyond the direct jobs and the benefit to Guelph’s economy, this move by Canadian Solar represents something much more significant: a homecoming. Believe it or not, this facility will be Canadian Solar’s first manufacturing plant in Canada. All the others are in China.
 
The name wasn’t conjured up from thin air, though. The company was born in Canada. But it set up production in China for the same reasons other companies manufacture there. The fact that it is bringing its operations back to Ontario is something to be celebrated.
 
It’s a sign, too, of what’s to come. This plant is one of the largest to open thanks to the Green Energy Act. But it’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. It’s not even the only such plant opening in Guelph. A few months back, Melitron Corporation announced plans to manufacture solar inverters in the Royal City, where it will employ another 80 people. And Guelph’s largest employer, Linamar, is also taking strides into the renewable energy business. It will be manufacturing wind turbine components.
 
Cities across Ontario are undergoing a similar transformation. Plants are opening, companies are hiring, and things are looking up. Over 4,000 direct manufacturing jobs have been created or announced so far thanks to the Green Energy Act. A total of 9,000 manufacturing jobs are anticipated by the end of 2012.
 
Of course, in addition to jobs created and spin-off effects in the rest of the economy, Ontario’s embrace of renewable energy is helping to clean our air by allowing us to finally stop burning coal.
 
And the Green Energy Act is really just the tip of the iceberg. It is a beginning. But the further we go down this road, the more Ontarians will realize that a green economy is not an abstract concept. It’s happening now. We are keeping the lights on, stopping pollution, and putting food on the table.
 
Now that we have begun down this path, we can see the promise of the green economy both for the jobs and competitive advantage it can offer today, and for its ability to build a world we are proud to hand down to our children.
 
But to truly grow the green economy, we need to commit to this path and continue to forge ahead.
 
And there is much more that can be done. Solar panels can be installed on our public buildings, and our homes, offices and workplaces can be made much more energy efficient. We can phase out the use of toxic chemicals in our manufacturing processes, thereby protecting workers and removing the chemicals from the products we use and the ecosystems we rely upon. And we can train our existing and future workforce to make sure they have the skills and knowledge needed in the green economy.
 
It was with that in mind that the United Steel Workers joined forces with Environmental Defence to create Blue Green Canada. We know that good jobs and a clean environment go hand in hand. We also know that renewable energy and the green economy presents an opportunity to revitalize our flagging manufacturing sector, to clean our air, and to position Ontario to thrive in the years to come.