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(en) Canada, Anarchis Linchpin - Greening the Province, Capitalist Style Solar Power workers in Richmond, VA By Ashanti Cabral

Date Wed, 30 Jun 2010 09:15:43 +0300

The province is abuzz with the build-up to the G-8 and G-20 meetings in June, occurring in Huntsville and Toronto respectively. Government leaders and officials from the world's wealthiest countries are preparing to discuss the global financial crisis, while crafting economic strategies without any transparency or input from the vast majority of people most affected by their plans. Submerged under talk of recession, recovery and “New Beginnings” (Stephen Harper’s theme for the G-20 conference) is any substantial mention of another devastating crisis impacting the globe, the ecological crisis. The G-20 pays lip service to the concept of sustainable development and the G-8 speaks of “greening” their summit, yet their talks in Copenhagen revealed no practical results.

However, in Ontario, things are happening a bit differently. In the last year the provincial government has taken some concrete steps to tackle both the economic and ecological crisis concurrently in the form of the 2009 Green Energy Act (GEA). A most interesting aspect of the GEA is the commitment to building up Ontario’s solar power production capacity. Solar power is the process in which sunlight is converted into electricity by a photovoltaic cell (often in the form of a solar panel) by employing the phenomenon of photoelectric effect. The Government of Ontario hopes to popularize this method of renewable energy production through a concept called Feed-In-Tariff (FIT). Eric Cosmos, a Toronto based designer and installer of solar systems explains FIT, the GEA and how this all fits into a supposedly greener capitalist future.

“[The FIT program] is the paying of a fee to people who have installed [photovoltaic] systems which are connected to the grid for the energy they pump directly back into the grid.” The main incentive of the FIT program then is profit. For solar systems with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or less, Ontario pays the owner 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour; roughly six times what they pay for the wind, waterpower, biomass or biogas equivalent. Furthermore, Cosmos notes that “[the GEA] has a domestic content guideline that 40% of the systems need to be made in Ontario and next year that's going up to 60%.” In essence then, the GEA FIT incentive program “is really designed to build decentralized [power] generation for the grid and kick-start the industry. It's really a bid to get the North American [photovoltaics] industry to be here [in Ontario].”

In response to the incentive program and the domestic content guideline “the market for photovoltaics is booming and industries are cropping up really fast”, as Cosmos has personally witnessed. “Decades ago there was the idea of 'Solar Revolution', that is, decentralized power [production] and that's totally still feasible in terms of setting up small-scale systems … but in order to get the scale to make it cheap enough to work there's got to be panels everywhere.”

In terms of meeting the goals in the Green Energy Act of building up a domestic solar industry and increasing the supply of solar energy to the grid, the Feed-In-Tariff incentive program appears to be working. Yet how does the GEA fare when we envision it contributing to a truly sustainable future?

Eric Cosmos is critical. “It's not smart to think you could run an entire house on solar power because some things, like heating or running a stove, require a massive amount of power.” Indeed
renewable energies, with all their promise, compel us to rethink our energy consumption patterns. Because it's unreasonable to expect the solar panels on an average sized rooftop to be able to power the huge amounts of energy-sucking appliances and generally wasteful energy habits we've grown accustomed to under mass-consumption capitalism, to seriously embrace solar power necessitates a shift in our lifestyle.

According to Cosmos, “This is the criticism of the FIT program; consumption and production are totally disconnected. It's good for the grid because it produces power in the middle of the day when people use it a lot, but there's no real conservation incentive”. Yet such a lifestyle shift is contrary to capitalism and its “grow-or-die” logic since the well-being of profit maximization requires mass-consumption and expanding consumerism. Herein lies capitalism’s ecological contradiction: so long as an economic system is predicated on never-ending growth, it will never be able to sustain itself on a finite world such as ours. Capitalism must die so the earth can live.

The GEA doesn’t come anywhere near solving the central ecological contradiction; it will at best act as a stop-gap amelioration to the energy crisis and create greener sector jobs. Yet, ironically, as committed as the Government of Ontario is to the capitalist project, the GEA does seem to be inadvertently creating the infrastructure that could be harnessed by a post-capitalist, ecologically sustainable society. In fact, this infrastructure of decentralized power generation would dovetail quite cohesively with the form of decentralized, ecologically sustainable socialist economy for which anarchists advocate. Cosmos explains, “I do see [solar energy] as a lot less of a sham than many other environmental initiatives like ‘Carbon Credits’ and ‘Cap-and-Trade’. It’s incremental, it’s gradual, but it’s actually doing something. Even if the incentive programs end it’s not too big of a deal to just disconnect [the solar panels from the grid] and reconnect them into a system that’s locally focused. Solar power] was developed based on a need for decentralized power generation.”

In this way, the GEA enables us to improve current environmental conditions, while simultaneously working towards our revolutionary goals of an alternative society.
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