This past weekend (May 15 + 16, 2010) the Toronto Star ran a large story about "Green” companies that have fleeced or cheated people out of money or delivered sub-par equipment and services. The articles dealt with the story of several individuals or couples who lost tens of thousands of dollars to two shady contractors who were peddling the green-dream. The industry is small and I have encountered both of these people either directly or indirectly. What they did was wrong - whether they did it deliberately or through bad planning & management. I do have a couple of comments about the situation and the article.

The first is; that every industry has "snake oil salesmen" and charlatans. People must practice their due diligence and look for the signs of dishonesty or incompetence. In the Ontario solar industry there are very few companies that have any amount of experience - perhaps a dozen or so - the rest are new & inexperienced. It seems that "the solar industry" is the new bubble with everyone who wants to get out of a dead-end job, is scrambling to get into. The government has been pimping the idea and throwing money at it without establishing rules, standards and qualifications for those in or getting into the installation side of the industry. The result is the chaos we are only just starting to see - and it's going to get MUCH worse.

"Solar Schools" are springing up to take advantage of the government's retraining funds for unemployed people - promising  them lucrative jobs in Ontario's new solar industry, based on several days training in their school. What a complete load of dung! Installing solar systems requires many of the skills that several trades take 4 to 7 years of training and apprenticing to learn. Someone "graduating" from one of these schools will only likely have a grasp of how little they know about solar. I think this is a crime to raise the "student's" expectations against the grim reality of the prospects of getting a job that pays more than minimum wage.

Regarding the Toronto Star article, I was hoping it would address the situation around the massive increase in brand new (read inexperienced) solar electric companies in Ontario. I guess that newspapers need to work with problems that have already occurred rather than try to prevent problems that are going to occur. I am referring to the significant problems that are going to occur with fraud and misrepresentation followed by badly / illegally installed solar electric systems and then disappearing PV companies. By the way, the industry association championed this program but has no ability to regulate, control or discipline its members. Yes they may not allow them to renew their memberships if they behave badly, but that's no hardship to a company that doesn't care...

What I would like to have seen in the article was a proper analysis of what to expect from an alternative energy system - a primer if you will, for those ignorant of the engineering limits of what is possible. This would do the public a great service, for there is so much hype and misinformation out there (much of it spread by the media - such as newspapers). I suspect a large part of it would fly in the face of the common myths promoted by the various manufacturers extolling the benefits of their products - for example the gross overstating of the energy and dollar savings from evacuated tube solar hot water systems and geothermal heating systems.

Perhaps the issue for the newspapers is they don't want to be seen as preaching or teaching - drama sells papers.

So it's left to the individual to educate themselves, to sort through the dross, hype and garbage to figure it out for themselves or find a trusted source of relevant information. We at SolarOntario try to be that source of trusted information - but it's a bit of a thankless task - the competition and others don't necessarily want the truth to be out there.....