November 12, 2018 2:42 pm
Updated: November 12, 2018 8:45 pm

Alberta increasing solar rebates as the green energy industry grows 500% since 2015

WATCH ABOVE: Since 2015, the solar industry in Alberta has grown by nearly 500 per cent. The NDP says it's a massive jump that's helping diversify the economy. Sarah Kraus found out what motivated residents.

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Alberta has seen a huge uptick in demand for solar energy, so the province is increasing rebates for both homeowners and non-profits, as well as putting more money towards solar energy programs.

On Monday, the Alberta government announced it is increasing funding to programs run by Energy Efficiency Alberta and the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre.

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Energy Efficiency Alberta is funded by the province’s carbon tax and is aimed at getting Albertans to use energy more wisely.

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Since April 2017, more than 950 solar installations have been completed via its residential and commercial solar program, the province said.

To up the incentive, Energy Efficiency Alberta is increasing solar rebate levels by 15 per cent for residences ($.075/watt to $0.90/watt) and 25 per cent for non-profits ($0.75/watt to $1.00/watt).

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The province said homeowners can now get up to 35 per cent off solar panel installation, for a maximum rebate of $10,000, and businesses and non-profit organizations can get up to 35 per cent off system costs, to a maximum rebate of $1 million.

Rebates are based on the size of the installation and calculated at $0.90 per watt for residential, $0.75 per watt for commercial, and $1 for non-profits and charities.

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There’s an extra perk for Edmonton residents. The City of Edmonton is currently offering an additional incentive of $0.15/watt towards the cost of installing a residential system, on top of the $0.90/watt from Energy Efficiency Alberta.

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Hank Bestman had 20 solar panels installed on his south- and east-facing rooftops in west Edmonton in December 2017. He’d been thinking about going solar for years and the rebates made it economically feasible.

“The cost of installation was about $20,000 and we got just over $4,000 back in rebates. So it was a $16,000 investment,” he explained.

In the summer, he was able to pump extra electricity he was generating back into the grid, for a credit on his bills.

“In July it worked really well for us. We were hardly using any energy from the grid. As a matter of fact, our combined gas and electricity bills were negative.”

For Bestman, installing the panels was a matter of principle.

“I think it’s an investment in the future that you make and we’re quite concerned about our carbon footprint. This is one great way we can eliminate or minimize that,” he said.

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The government says by 2019, the program is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half a million tonnes – the same as taking 70,000 passenger vehicles off the road.

The Alberta government is also providing an additional $7.5 million to help municipalities develop solar projects through the Alberta Municipal Solar Program, which is managed by the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre. The province says first-time applicants to the program will receive an additional rebate incentive of $0.25/watt.

READ MORE: Alberta announces $36M rebate program for solar panels on homes, businesses

The Alberta Municipal Solar Program has supported 60 projects in 28 municipalities, resulting in an estimated annual savings of over $675,000 on power bills.

Solar still only makes up a small part of Alberta’s electricity grid, but its popularity is growing.

The Alberta government says since 2015, the solar industry has grown by nearly 500 per cent. About 3,100 solar installations have been completed and solar capacity has increased from six MW in 2015 to 35 MW in 2018.

The Evansdale Community League is helping contribute to that.

“For the first installation, half the roof was finished with solar panels and it knocked half the bill off for electricity, so we thought we would go as fast as we could for the second half,” explained community league president Jeff Muiselaar.

Now the panels on the community hall generate enough electricity that the league no longer has to pay power bills. Before, they cost about $1,000 each month.

“So we can use the money we’d normally use to pay the bills for more and better programs,” Muiselaar said.

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The province predicts consumers will save $92 million on energy bills over the lifetime of the projects.

Earlier this year, solar industry participants said they expected more investment to flow into Alberta. The province said as of Monday, more than 300 certified companies have installed solar projects across the province.

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Gordan Howell is an electrical engineer who specializes in solar electricity. He says the increased demand is evident. He credits that partly to government leadership.

“It’s fascinating. More and more people are coming into the industry and getting good jobs. The industry is becoming better developed, they’re becoming more efficient in how they install the systems and the price is coming down absolutely remarkably,” he said.

Howell also pointed out a shift in perspectives.

“People are coming to us now and just saying: ‘I want it.’ They’re not coming to us and saying: ‘How cost effective is it? What’s the payback?’” he explained. “Some people even come to me and say: ‘I want to be able to look my kids and grandkids in the eye and say at least I tried.’”

He predicts in the next year, there will be even more incentives for Albertans to make the switch to solar.

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