A Spill in Alberta's Solar Patch is Called a Sunny Day

Energy Efficiency Alberta is a new agency tasked with these responsibilities:

  • Promoting and supporting the importance of energy efficiency;
  • Creating community energy solutions; and
  • Continuing to promote Micro Generation opportunities for Albertans.

Programs to be launched will include residential initiatives and consumer product programs built around the implementation of various rebates and incentives. David Dodge was named Chair, Board of Directors, for this new government agency. In the coming weeks, we hope to interview David to dig into the objectives of the new group in our attempt to both support its work and bring some of the new opportunities to the attention of our electricity and natural gas retail customers.

For those who do not know David, he and Dylan Thompson run Green Energy Futures which airs on the CKUA Radio Network on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays across Alberta. Their blog Green Energy Futures appears in the Huffington Post. David is one of those rare people who is truly dedicated to leading Canada’s transition to a clean energy future. His blogs are worth reading and provide a great amount of insight to what is possible here in Alberta.

During 2017, UTILITYnet will be launching a few new programs which we believe will mesh nicely into the new mandate of this government agency. The program includes providing lower prices on energy efficiency furnaces, water heaters, and lighting as part of a Home Services package. This will be promoted through the Energy Marketers within our utility network. Plans are already underway, but more on this later.

Interesting to note: Alberta's solar patch currently stands at almost 1,600 PV generating units with slightly over 12 MW of PV capacity. Considering the demand in Alberta is in the 10,000 MW range. As such, Micro-Generators with solar panels on the roof tops of homes still are relatively insignificant. However, it grew 29% in systems and 43% in capacity over the last year. The trend is going in the right direction. Just think, what if we had 16,000 PV generating units all over Alberta? Is a 10-fold growth achievable? I think so, and all we need to make this happen is a government who believes in this possibility and is willing to do the right thing.

The Birth of a Good Idea

A few people will recall the program called Light up Alberta which was incubated by our company and rolled out in Alberta, 2011. The program initially was promoted by Bow Valley Power, Spark (Sky Fire), and Spot Power. Light up Alberta was premised on paying Micro-Generators a reasonable price for the surplus green electricity that was produced from their PV Solar systems and shipped onto the grid.

The program was designed to help customers with the financing of greening their homes, churches, recreational facilities, and small businesses. We wanted to pay a small subsidy to the Micro Generator for the surplus energy from their PV Solar system that was exported into the grid and their local neighbourhood. At the time, the government’s Micro Generation Regulation had a clause in it that allowed us to pay a premium to Micro PV Solar generators. 10 to 15 cents per kWh was paid to home owners and farmers who installed PV Solar. It was financed through the Power Pool under a rebate program, and funnelled by retailers to the Micro Generators as a credit on their monthly utility bill.

Why 15 cents per kWh? When we set the rate of the rebate, it was premised on the real Value Of Solar (VOS). The program helped encourage the growth of installing PV Solar as a renewable energy source. It was a success.

The Death of an Idea

Unfortunately, the Light up Alberta program upset a few of the staff at Alberta Energy because they viewed it as a ‘Feed-In-Tariff’ and fundamentally opposed the idea of subsidies. We argued that the government, through CCEMC, had earmarked $14.5 million to be paid to ENMAX in support of their Micro Generation Solar Program. This was much more of a subsidy than the 15 cents we were paying out to Micro Generators. But we lost that battle. When looking at today’s ERA financial statement their status report indicates that ENMAX actually only completed 30% of the project that was funded. (CCEMC was recently re-organized by the NDP and is now called Emissions Reductions Alberta (ERA). Unfortunately, the Micro Generation Regulation was changed in 2014, removing the clause in the law upon which we based our program on. When the regulations changed, the program died.

We’re Back!

The NDP’s pushed towards the development of a Climate Leadership Plan at the same time UTILITYnet launched Green Alberta Energy and re-launched the Light up Alberta program. Our goal: to see a bright light in every community in Alberta powered by PV Solar. The original program has been given new life. We set up a Private Investment Fund, from which we are now paying a premium on electricity shipped back onto the grid produced by PV Solar Micro Generators. And, as the program kicked into gear, firms like SOLARMAX POWER pushed the envelope even further with an amazing program to support solar. This is worth checking out.

Green Credits

Green Alberta Energy is purchasing the green credits produced from a number of Micro-Generators that are shipping green energy back onto the grid as well as from Biomass Generators. The profits on the resale of the green offsets is banked into our Investment Fund and the money is used to help pay Micro Generators a premium on the surplus green energy they export onto the grid from the solar panels on their home roof tops.

It is a self-funding program and, by the end of 2016, we will have sold over 16 million kWh of energy through the Light up Alberta program. A good start to a long-term business strategy. As we enroll more and more customers under this program, our ultimate business goal is to actively participate in a growth industry and, one day, we are hopeful to see a customer in every community in our province. Currently we have a foothold of retail customers in over 300 Alberta communities and we are continuing to expand through rural Alberta. For a list of Energy Marketers promoting greening the grid – visit

The Challenge and Goal

Here's the challenge that should be put in front of Energy Efficiency Alberta: what can the province do to fast track the installed base of PV Solar from the current level of 1,600 to 16,000?

3 Simple Recommendations

  1. Agree to pay all Micro Generators in the province the true Value of Solar for what they are producing and exporting onto the grid. Our recommendation: 14 cents per kWh. Don’t pay 40 or 80 cents which has been done in other countries because this would be unreasonable and would truly be an unfair subsidy. By paying all generators the same price, regardless of where they are located (in urban centers or in rural Alberta), everyone would be treated equally. Consumers would be able to easily calculate their return on investment and, with certainty, make an economical decision to proceed forward or not. As installation of PV Systems picked up, the local Solar Companies would immediately see the benefit of the new and expanded business stream.
  2. Don’t repeat the previous mistake by subsidizing the big utilities, like CCEMC previously did, and expect the money to trickle down. Engage consumers directly through the existing network of all retailers in Alberta, and be willing to pay the retailer 1 cent per kWh for services rendered.
  3. The new Micro Generation program can be seamlessly implemented, without any cost in redesigning billing, and processing systems. Use all current and existing transactions and processes that are in-place and which are based on the Bi-Directional metering and processing transactional protocols. The only thing that the Energy Efficiency Agency would need to determine is the funding mechanism to compensate AESO for the payment of the fees. This, in turn, would be managed by the retailer of record and credited monthly to the Micro Generators based on actual surplus metered consumption of electricity exported onto the grid.
Nick Clark | October 28, 2016