While he sees the province’s $5-million Municipal Solar Program as a positive first step, Greenenergy Renewable Energy Ltd. president Geoff McArthur says the new program may result in some Albertans sitting on the fence awaiting similar incentives for those in urban areas. Photo by Cody Stuart/Manging Editor/CREB®

Residential homeowners left in the dark as province rolls out solar energy incentives

While the sun is set to shine a little brighter on some Albertans with news the provincial government will be offering increased incentives for solar power, others in the province are saying they’re being left in the dark.

The Alberta government recently announced a $5-million Municipal Solar Program as part of its Climate Leadership Plan. Included in the plan are rebates of up to $0.75 per watt, to a maximum of $300,000 per project, to communities that install solar panels or set up solar panels in fire halls, community centres and offices.

Another $500,000 will go toward Alberta farmers who wish to generate their own electricity.

However, with the program largely ignoring the vast majority of residences, critics of the new incentives say they don’t do enough to encourage more Albertans to go green.

“It’s a good start, but they’re not doing anything for residential houses. It’s all commercial and rural,” said Greenenergy Renewable Energy Ltd. president Geoff McArthur

Founded in 2007, the Calgary-based company offers renewable energy equipment and systems to residential and commercial customers primarily in the Calgarian area, as well as in B.C.’s Shuswap region.

McArthur said while he’s already seen an uptick in the number of rural Albertans looking to add solar energy to their farms, many would-be residential customers could end up waiting for wider-reaching incentives.

“It is triggering things,” he said. “A lot of people were sitting and waiting on the fence, waiting for incentives to come, and we still have many customers that are waiting for incentives to come for residential.”

With the funding expected to account for about 160 projects and reduce carbon emissions by up to 8,400 tonnes over the next 25 years, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips has said the program is “just the beginning.”

“The trouble is when you put out these carrots, it makes people sit and wait,” said McArthur. “So the residential homeowners are going to wait now, which means it’s going to be difficult for our business.

“You either have to do it, or don’t talk about it. It’s good that they’re doing it, but I would rather it went to the actual homeowner or farm owner, rather than companies or municipalities.”

The agricultural solar program builds on a pilot project that saw 61 projects reduce greenhouse gases by more than 360 tonnes and add almost 500 kW of capacity to Alberta’s electricity grid.

Under the new program, farmers with a minimum of $10,000 farm commodity or livestock production income can receive 35 per cent of eligible costs (up to $50,000) for construction projects that install “high-efficiency equipment” or retrofit projects that improve the operation’s energy usage.

“Agricultural producers embrace innovation and are good stewards of the land. The solar installation program will help increase farming efficiencies, reduce power bills and greenhouse gas emissions and add to Alberta’s power grid,” said Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier.

Asked whether the province had any plans to widen the current incentive to urban residences, the premier’s office said there is no timeline for expansion.

Currently, homeowners looking at installing their own solar energy system can expect to recoup their investment in 10 to 12 years.

Asked what sort of interest level he’d expect from Albertans should the government move to make the same incentives available to those in more urban centres, McArthur said “the uptake would be considerable.”

According to critics, the newly announced incentives will account for just six mW of the province’s 17,000 mW power grid – a small percentage of the targeted 30 per cent of electricity generation from renewable energy by 2030 in the province’s climate change plan.

Examples of buildings under the program include arenas, administration buildings, police stations, fire halls, recreation centres, libraries, public works shops, and community centres. Community organizations are also eligible to participate. However, they must occupy municipally owned buildings and municipalities must apply on their behalf.

The program provides a rebate ($/watt) based on installed solar capacity to a maximum of 20 per cent of capital costs or $300,000. To receive funding, participants must install solar PV and conduct public outreach following completion of the installation. The rebate will be issued to municipalities after project completion is verified.

Funding is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Applications for the Municipal Solar Program open March 1. Applications for the On-Farm Solar Management program open Feb. 8.