Solar energy remains a largely untapped resource in southwestern Manitoba, and few incentives exist to boost public interest, says one contractor.
Manitoba has become a “very difficult place to sell and install solar,” Daniel Lacovetsky said during Manitoba Sustainable Energy Association’s (ManSEA) virtual conference on March 23.
Lacovetsky and business partner Jacob Kettner own Powertec Electric, a Winnipeg-based electrical company specializing in renewable energy sources.
Based on data from Energyhub.org, Manitoba ranks third among the provinces for best natural capacities for solar production — particularly in the southwest and south-central regions which score near the top of the site’s scale for potential solar energy generation.
“When you look at solar over its lifetime of 30 years, it produces some of the cheapest kilowatt hours you can get. Cheaper than hydro, cheaper than nuclear, cheaper than basically any source out there,” said Lacovetsky.
However, it seems Manitoba is no longer very friendly to solar installation.
Manitoba saw a boom in solar energy projects between 2016 and 2018 as Manitoba Hydro rolled out a rebate program that would pay one dollar per watt out of the cost of installation, up to 200 kilowatts.
By the end of 2016, Manitoba Hydro received 110 applications for the program, the Crown corporation reported.
“That was a very generous program. Pretty much the most generous program in the country,” said Lacovetsky.
It was probably too generous, he said, as it attracted contractors to the province seeking to capitalize on demand. When the program ended, some companies vanished and left customers without support, Lacovetsky said.
Though Manitoba still has some incentives for energy efficiency, Powertec installs most of its solar panels in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
This year Energyhub.org rated Manitoba as ninth among the provinces and territories on the relative feasibility of installing a solar power system. Lacovetsky argued the province should rank lower, below Saskatchewan (ranked 12) and Nunavut (ranked 10).
Saskatchewan buys back excess solar power for more than double the price Manitoba does, he said. Solar power there offsets natural gas power, while in Nunavut it offsets diesel-powered generation.
Manitoba ranks at the bottom of the list based on utility costs and connection policies, according to Energyhub.org. The site says Manitoba Hydro will pay just under three cents per kilowatt hour for excess solar power fed back into the grid.
This low buyback rate is the real struggle, said Lacovetsky.
Some provinces have a ‘net metering’ policy, which exchanges credits for any excess power the solar system generates, says Energyhub.org. It’s common to produce extra energy in the daytime or summer. A net metering policy credits the user for the excess, then uses the credits when the solar system can’t produce enough energy for the homeowner’s needs.
Lacovetsky said Manitoba would benefit from a policy like this.
Lower electricity prices in Manitoba also mean lower saving potential for switching to solar, the site says.
A solar installation in Manitoba can take 19 to 25 years to pay for itself, Lacovetsky said.
On the plus side, Manitoba Hydro has good financing options for solar, said Lacovetsky. He also held out hope that the province would instate a new solar incentive program soon.
Crown corporation Efficiency Manitoba has promised a permanent solar energy incentive program by 2022 or 2023, according to its three-year plan.