Saskatchewan’s net metering program will be reactivated on Nov. 1 for potential residential and business solar power producers.
The revised program will not have a total generation cap, no end date, and no specified contract length with SaskPower. There is also no rebate for installation costs.
The province’s previous net metering program included a rebate of up to $20,000 on installation costs and a total generating capacity of 16 megawatts. It was set to run until November 2020, but that cap was hit in mid-September.
“Net metering customers tell SaskPower they’re looking largely for two things. One is to reduce their SaskPower bill, and two is to have a green energy option. So this net metering program does provide for that,” Duncan said.
The previous net metering program included a 10-year contract with SaskPower, so customers already signed up for net metering will not see their agreements change until their contract expires.
Under the updated program, customers can generate up to 100 kilowatts of their own power to decrease their monthly power bills, and get credit for excess power created.
Excess power will be credited at 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour against the customer’s energy charge. According to the province, this rate is guaranteed for the 2020-21 fiscal year. After that, the rate will be reviewed according to market conditions. Customers under contract with the former net metering program receive a credit worth 14 cents a kilowatt hour.
As the solar industry prepares to work under a new set of incentives, Prairie Sun Solar co-owner Brenden Owens said he doesn’t know if his company will continue to be viable in Saskatchewan.
“I’ve lived in Regina my whole life. I want to stay in this province and install solar and support my family that way. But with the program changes we might have to look at going somewhere else,” Owens said.
According to Owens, the reduced bill credit means it will take twice the time for a solar system to pay for itself.
“Basically, what it’s done is it’s made your payback go from nine years on average to 16 or 17 years. So it really pushes the boundary for what customers are able to install solar and do it economically and viably,” Owens said.
Solar company owners spent Tuesday afternoon on a conference call with SaskPower, being briefed on how the new net metering program will work.
“Everybody’s down. There’s no one in that meeting that’s happy or even remotely content,” Owens said.
Under the new program, Owens anticipates having to lay off more of his staff. When the old net metering program was suspended, Owens had to reduce his staff from eight employees to six.
Prior to the announcement, several solar companies said they wanted to see what they called one-to-one net metering. SaskPower charges about 14 cents per kilowatt hour, so solar companies like TruGreen Energy and Prairie Sun Solar wanted to see a 14 cent bill credit.
According to Duncan, 7.5 cents is the approximate generation cost for a kilowatt hour. The 7.5 cents that net metering customers will not be able to get credit for will go towards upkeep on the province’s power grid.
“That energy charge includes the distribution and transmission charge in it. Essentially, somebody else has to pay for that. So that’s the challenge that we have,” Duncan said.
“That’s still a cost to SaskPower and SaskPower’s customers. So we want to ensure that we’re being fair and we’re not shifting that burden to people that just cannot afford solar panels.”
Prairie Sun Solar is not alone in their dissatisfaction. Miguel Catellier, CEO of TruGreen Energy told Global News he had the same issues as Owens.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he’s been hearing discontent in the industry.
“We’ve been on the phone already with leaders in this industry that are saying we’re going to see lots of job losses. We’ve basically seen, with the stroke of a pen the Sask. Party decide to kill this industry,” Meili said.
Meili said an NDP government would help cover upfront solar installation costs if elected.
The net metering program is commonly associated with rooftop solar power, but is also available for residential and/or business hydro, flare gas, biomass, biogas and heat recovery customers.