Geoff Domenico hoped 2016 would be a banner year for his solar-panel installation company, KCP Energy, with growth in residential solar panels expected to double in Alberta. In the end, sales actually fell for that side of the business.
The provincial government had said it would unveil an incentive program for people to use solar panels on their homes and garages. Such a policy could create a huge opportunity for the solar-panel industry in the province, but right now the sector is hurting as customers wait for the government to roll out the details about the new policy.
'I think a lot of people are going to go through some pretty lean months at the start of this year.' - Matt Lisac, National Solar Distributors
"We definitely noticed even starting back in June of last year, people were starting to ask about the incentives," said Domenico. "They were really unwilling to commit until they understood what the incentive was going to be."
KCP Energy now has a growing list of customers who are delaying their purchase of solar panels.
"We do start to wonder," said Domenico, "if people are actually going to go a different direction and choose not to proceed with solar, or perhaps have made decisions already to spend their dollars elsewhere."
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The industry is in limbo as customers want to know the size of the government's program, the value of the incentives and when they can apply. Unless the government unveils those details soon, there could be job losses in the sector.
"A lot of people are going to go through some pretty lean months at the start of this year," said Matt Lisac, president of National Solar Distributors in Edmonton, a wholesaler of solar panel equipment across Western Canada.
Lisac guesses the industry has seen sales drop by about 50 per cent in recent months compared with a year ago.
Alberta's solar industry should be thriving, given the NDP government's emphasis on renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases. Its climate leadership plan includes a carbon tax, shutting down coal power plants by 2030 and capping oilsands emissions.
The provincial government is also investing in large-scale renewable energy projects and committing $9 million to help municipalities, Indigenous communities and farmers install solar panels.
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Announcement coming soon
The Alberta government has not said how much money could be made available for residential installations, although Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said an announcement is coming in the "next few weeks." She has heard some of the complaints from those in the solar-panel installation industry, including a few businesses in her riding of Lethbridge-West.
"We are working as quickly as we can to make sure that the program has all of the right elements to it," said Phillips. "We are more interested in getting it right than getting it fast."
Some businesses see the value in being patient with such an important policy, but they also don't want to suffer much longer with lacklustre residential sales.
Alberta's solar industry has grown in recent years and further expansion is anticipated once the incentive program is announced. The provincial government recently loosened the rules around micro-generation, increasing the production limit from one megawatt to five megawatts and letting a micro-generating system power more than one building.
There are more than 1,700 wind, solar and other small-scale micro-generation systems running in houses and other sites in Alberta. Since 2009, micro-generation has increased by about 70 per cent each year, on average, according to the provincial government.
A previous image showed a solar thermal project, not a photovoltaic system that would produce electricity.Feb 08, 2017 1:12 PM ET