Panel calls for residential solar rebate

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Look for one this summer, says EEA chair

Albertans should get a rebate for putting solar panels up on their roof, says a provincial panel.

And the head of Alberta’s energy efficiency agency says that just might start happening this summer.

The Alberta Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel issued its final report Monday. The report spells out what the new Energy Efficiency Alberta agency should do over the next five years.

“Efficiency investment leads to the kind of growth that Alberta’s middle class and those struggling to get ahead need to thrive,” said Alberta Environment minister Shannon Phillips at the report’s launch in Calgary.

Other jurisdictions in North America have shown that efficiency programs create about 50 jobs per million dollars invested while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs.

The province struck a seven-member panel last year that met with hundreds of Albertans to determine the mission and first programs of Energy Efficiency Alberta, said St. Albert’s Tanya Doran, panel member and senior sustainability lead for Stantec in Alberta. They gave the province advice on those first programs last fall so the programs would be ready for this year.

The province announced three rebate programs last fall: the direct install program, rebates for efficient appliances and incentives for the business, non-profit and institutional sector. The report reveals that the panel recommended a fourth program: an incentive for residents, businesses and community groups to put up solar panels, one that would be similar to the one now offered to farmers, municipalities and indigenous communities.

Doran said the province held off on announcing this rebate last fall in part because it needed to revamp its micro-generation rules first, which it did last month. Alberta’s electricity market is also much different from others in North America, which makes it tougher to copy solar rebates run elsewhere.

“It’s a little more complex than a low-flow showerhead,” she said.

The panel said incentive would lower the up-front cost of solar and ensure a net financial savings on electricity, and noted that on-site power generation often encouraged more conservation and savings.

Small-scale solar would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the province reach its goal of getting a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, Doran said.

Energy Efficiency Alberta chair David Dodge confirmed that the province was working on a solar incentive program, and said it would probably be ready by June.

“The market is still developing,” he said of solar, and it’s really only the keeners that have jumped into it so far.

While solar installations in Alberta have grown 95 per cent since 2008, they still represent just 15 of the 16,000-some megawatts of generating capacity in the province, said Gordon Howell, a solar engineer who tracks the industry’s growth for the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.

“We have a long way to go to reduce our emissions.”

Other advice

The report recommends that the agency consider additional programs in areas such as whole-home retrofits, heating, transportation and community-owned renewable energy systems.

It also calls on the agency to investigate innovative financing methods for energy efficiency systems such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) model. Popular in the U.S., PACE has a municipality pay for an upgrade’s up-front cost (e.g. solar panels) so the homeowner doesn’t have to cover it. The government gets its cash back over time through property taxes, while the resident saves on energy bills.

That puts the whole question of the economics of solar on a completely different footing, Howell said. Instead of worrying about solar’s long payback times (which deters investment), residents now just have to see if their energy savings exceed their additional property tax.

“You do not care about what the payback is because it’s not your money. You care about the cash-flow.”

Dodge said his agency now has to hire staff and figure out which of the panel’s recommendations to enact next.

“There’s a lot of great advice in the report, and we’ll be looking at all of it.”

The report is available at www.alberta.ca/energy-efficiency.aspx.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.