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The Kingston Whig Standard - A flick of the switch for association

A Kingston sustainable energy association hopes to be quite busy during the next few months.

Fortified by a federal grant that came on the heels of the Oct. 1 launch of Ontario's Green Energy Act, officials of SWITCH aim to educate small-and medium-sized businesses of the economic advantages of solar energy.

"Things are busy," said Ted Hsu, executive director of the non-profit association, which has two workshops planned in December. "We're preparing information sheets and presentations."

SWITCH plans to hold workshops across the region, from Prince Edward and Hastings counties in the west to Leeds and Grenville County in the east.

"If we can get together with businesses and answer questions, we're going to do it," said Hsu, whose association helps companies interested in investing in solar power develop business relationships with contractors and suppliers.

"We want to jump-start the whole solar energy market in Kingston and create jobs over the next couple of decades. Solar energy is big in the 21st century."

The workshops will provide details of the Green Energy Act, including the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program. The program enables businesses that install solar panels to sell the electricity back to the power grid for an above-market rate. However, in order to qualify for that rate, the project must include 50% Ontario content (manpower, parts and labour, equipment).

"You can generate electricity and sell it back to the grid for about a 4% to 8% return on investment," said Hsu. "We'll help people calculate just how much money that will mean for them.

"If you can add a steady source of income, that's good for business. Farmers understand that, the ones that have wind turbines or solar panels on their property. Having a steady income helps to smooth some of the (financial) bumps. It's the same thing for businesses."

Hsu said one of the concerns he hears from some companies is "they are interested but say (renewable energy) it's not my core business. I want to worry about my core business only.

"We let them know that there are other companies who would be willing to rent your rooftop (to install solar panels). They pay you rent."

SWITCH was incorporated in 2002.

"Some people interested in alternative energy sources got together to try and make Kingston a leader in renewable energy," said Hsu.

While many industries have been hurt by the recession during the last year, Hsu said the renewable energy sector is thriving. Governments are pouring more money into the field and businesses and homeowners are taking advantage of it.

"It's like getting a piece of the auto industry (when it was flourishing)," he said.

The federal grant allowed SWITCH to hire three more employees on a contract basis, increasing the association's staff to five.

With a couple of busy months ahead, SWITCH will look for pport from at least two of its members -- the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, which will publicize the workshops, and Utilities Kingston.

"They make it easy for people to connect to the grid and cut through the paperwork," Hsu said of the latter.

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