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Nova Scotia Power's proposed fee for solar homeowners draws pushback from installers

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia Power proposal to charge fees for customers who sell power back to the grid has drawn heated criticism from solar installers who say it will damage the emerging industry.
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HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia Power proposal to charge fees for customers who sell power back to the grid has drawn heated criticism from solar installers who say it will damage the emerging industry.

The utility applied Thursday before the Utility and Review Board for a monthly fee of about $8 per kilowatt of electricity, which in a typical 10-kilowatt photovoltaic solar installation would amount to about $960 annually. 

David Brushett, the chairman of Solar Nova Scotia, says this would be a massive reduction of a typical homeowner's revenue of about $1,800 annually from a 10-kilowatt photovoltaic installation — and would nearly double the time needed for a homeowner to earn back the cost of installing the system.

"The fee would make solar not feasible for just about everybody," he said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Brushett said Nova Scotia Power's proposal is already creating uncertainty in the industry as nervous consumers reconsider solar installations scheduled for this spring.

"Even if the regulator ultimately rejects it, there's going to be uncertainty over the next months and nobody will install solar," he said.

Nova Scotia Power vice-president David Landrigan said on Friday it's fair to apply the monthly fee for people who are selling their excess power back to the system — referred to as "net metering" — because the utility bears the cost of ensuring all customers have access to a reliable source of electricity.

He said without the fee, homeowners who generate electricity are effectively being subsidized by other customers on the Nova Scotia Power system who don't have the panels and are paying full rates. 

The executive said the company has to build a system to provide enough power at peak times in winter months — during periods when solar panels usually aren't sufficient to supply the needs of homeowners.

"We would get more energy from solar in the summer when we don't have as much energy usage ... There's no solar at the time when the (electricity) is needed to keep the power on in Nova Scotia," he said. 

Landrigan said that without the fee, non-solar customers would be providing a subsidy totalling about $55 million from 2022 to 2030, roughly equivalent to a four per cent increase in the average residential rate over that time period.

Yohan Peiris, owner of Renewly Solar Inc. of Halifax, said his business is already suffering the effects of the utility's proposal, which is not scheduled to be before the regulator until this fall.

His business has 15 clients who have put down $5,000 deposits, and they are now asking questions about whether the cost of the system they've signed on for could be changed by the regulator. The Nova Scotia Power monthly fee, if approved as proposed, would apply retroactively to people who install solar systems beginning next month.

"It will directly impact people's decision to go solar. They basically won't do it," said Peiris.

He said it will also put on hold his plans to hire four to five employees to help with various roles in installing residential solar systems. "I'm probably not able to hire anyone with this uncertainty occurring," he said.

Tory Rushton, provincial minister of natural resources and renewables, criticized the utility's plan.

"Nova Scotia has set one of the most ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and to get there we will need a range of solutions to expand access to renewable energy, including solar," he said in a statement. "We’re frustrated that N.S. Power has made a proposal that can hinder the progress we’ve been making to advance our climate change goals."

The regulator would hear the rate application, which has over 3,000 pages of documentation, this fall, and it normally requires up to 90 days to make decisions.

Asked if the fee application by Nova Scotia Power can be handled more quickly, Paul Allen, executive director of the review board, said in an email, "The board must consider the applications filed and provide any affected parties an opportunity to participate and be heard."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press