There was lots of anticipation coming from vendors and attendees of the second annual Solar Trade Show, as the province prepares to make an announcement about its solar rebate program.
On Monday, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips will announce the incentive program for solar panel installation rebates. The announcement was on the minds of many at the trade show at NAIT on Saturday.
The event included 31 vendors — 50 per cent more than last year’s inaugural expo, which saw 20 vendors.
Rob Harlan, the executive director of the Solar Energy Society of Alberta, said there are several reasons for the uptick.
“First of all, we’re in a place in history where governments on every level are looking towards renewables to provide some societal benefit,” he said.
Interest is also driven by greater public awareness, more demand for solar, as well as the falling cost of solar, he said.
“The early market for these things were people with environmental concerns or people who wanted to green their image as a business. Now we’re seeing people start to get interest in it as a long-term investment.”
Harlan is hopeful Monday’s announcement will spur more public interest, thereby helping the solar industry in Alberta grow “slowly but solidly.” He said it could be a “turning point” for the solar industry in the province.
“We want the incentive to be continuous for several years, perhaps taper down in prices as the economy improves, but as opposed to doing a quick flash in the pan incentive program and then dropping it,” he said.
Clifton Lofthaug, the president of Great Canadian Solar, said he has been fielding lots of interest but customers.
“There’s definitely a huge markets that’s just awaiting some sort of incentive program from the province. Once that’s announced, we expect there’s going to be huge uptake for solar,” he said.
Lofthaug said his business, which started in 2009, has experienced an average growth of 200 per cent every year. He speculates the solar rebate program could help his company grow 400 per cent this year.
“We’re just looking for some sort of steady incentive, something that really solidifies the industry, something that will create a lot of growth in the industry and get a lot of people working in it,” he said.
“The only way we would be disappointed is if we can’t get to work right away. If there’s some delay in the program, there’s just been a little bit of pushback because people know a program is coming and if they were to announce a program, have a delay between implementation then basically our industry will be on hold if that’s the case.”
Joy Duke came to the event in Edmonton from Lake Isle. She and her partner have been thinking about switching to solar for approximately five years.
Duke said cost has been a factor for not making the leap to solar; she is cautiously optimistic about the province’s upcoming announcement.
“If they would let you generate a little bit more so you can pay it off fast then that would be fast. At my age, I don’t want to be in a situation where I haven’t even paid for my system by the time I die.”
Marlin Schmidt, the minister of advanced education, was a speaker at the trade show. He could not divulge details of the announcement but reiterated that the NDP is committed to diversifying the economy.
“Our government is tapped into what’s on the minds of people of Alberta,” he said.
“They know renewable energy is the future of this province, that we can’t continue to rely on fossil fuels far into the future and interest in events like this really demonstrate that support for shifting away from the old way of doing things and moving into a new renewable energy system.”
Schmidt said previously-announced incentive programs to assist municipalities and agri-users have outstripped demand and there is a need for the province to support the development of the renewable energy industry.
“We can support the initial kickstart of the industry but we need to just break down the barriers to get that critical mass and get renewable energy working on its own so it can continue without government support in the future,” he said.
Jim Sandercock, the chair of the NAIT Alternative Energy Technology program, said the investments from the province in renewables was a signal for NAIT to expand its program. Previously, it accepted 28 students but this year saw 54 students. Sandercock said last year there were nine times more applicants than seats for students.
He predicts Monday’s announcement will be good news for students and alumni.
“Those kinds of programs are really important because they give industry stability and then they’re able to hire people without being worried they’ll have to lay people off,” he said.
“Within the renewable industry, it’s so new – it has a very, very high ratio of jobs to dollars spent compared to some industries.”