Province to supercharge solar


New incentives for municipal and on-farm solar power

St. Albert farmers and business owners say a new provincial incentive program is a good start when it comes to getting more solar power onto Alberta roofs.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips rolled out two new incentive programs for solar power Friday at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

“The up-front costs of going solar can be a barrier for the family farm or for city hall,” Carlier said, due to the long payback time on the initial investment.

“Our government sees that challenge as a partnership opportunity.”

The new $5-million Alberta Municipal Solar program will give municipalities a rebate of up to 75 cent per watt (to a maximum of $300,000 per project) on any new solar panels they install on buildings after Feb. 5, 2016.

This program should support 160 projects, produce enough power to energize 18,000 homes, and prevent up to 8,400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, Carlier said.

The $500,000 On-Farm Solar Management program will let farmers get up to 20 per cent of their costs back (to a maximum of $50,000) if they installed a solar system between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2018. This program is backed in part by the federal government.

“Agricultural operations can involve acres of barns or greenhouses that take heat and use electrical equipment,” Carlier said.

Solar power can help offset the operating and carbon costs of these farms, he continued. A previous version of this program has already helped 86 farms get solar and prevented some 367 tonnes of emissions per year.

Phillips said the cash for these programs comes from the province’s climate change emissions management fund (which big industry pays into at a rate of $15 per tonne when they fail to meet emissions reduction targets). These programs will create new jobs and a greener, more diverse Alberta economy.

“This is just the beginning,” she added, saying that it was very likely that these funds would not meet all the demand for solar in the province. These programs are meant to build up Alberta’s small solar industry, and will ramp up as the province’s proposed carbon tax kicks in.

These programs will encourage more people to make the jump into solar and will help the industry develop the capacity it needs to help the province reach its renewable energy goals, said Rob Harlan, executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta.

“Alberta has a bright future in terms of its clean energy potential.”

Sunnier days ahead

Solar power can help municipalities support businesses and reduce the operating costs of civic buildings, said Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes, the president of Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

“These projects aren’t allowed to be a priority usually as we don’t have the budget for (them). This gives us the ability to invest in these projects and make them a priority.”

Municipalities could see up to a one-third discount on new installations using this grant (assuming a $0.75/W discount and a typical commercial cost of $2.50/W), said Trevor DeHaan, St. Albert resident and general manager with SkyFire Energy.

While he wasn’t sure what these programs would mean business-wise for the industry (a provincial official suggested it could create up to 180 more jobs), having governments demonstrate solar projects should make the public less wary of the technology.

“The next step is bringing it to the public,” he said of the rebates.

“Ninety-five per cent of our inquiries are all local people wanting to make a difference.”

Farms are ideal places for solar generation as they have plenty of land and big, south-facing roofs, Harlan said. Once you’ve paid for the panels, you see next to no operational costs and save money on your utility bills.

His group has also seen huge interest from farmers in solar.

“We’ve had workshops where 100 people show up. We’ve had waiting lists of 50.”

Semi-retired farmer and Sturgeon County resident John Bocock said these programs are a step in the right direction that could give more people a reason to go solar.

“Climate change really is a fact of life that concerns us,” he said, and solar power mitigates it and diversifies the economy.

Although his current solar array isn’t eligible for the new rebate program (it went up in 2010), Bocock said the panels he plans to add this summer might qualify. The ones he has now are already saving him the $1,000 a year he’d otherwise have to spend on a new transformer.

The on-farm solar program opens for applications this Monday. The municipal one kicks in March 1.

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About Author

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.