The CEO of Saint John Energy says the utility's long-term plan to generate its own electricity and lease solar panels to residential customers has been warmly received by the provincial government.

Ray Robinson says some elements of the project will require the removal of "some ambiguity" in existing provincial legislation, but talks with senior government officials have been encouraging.

"We've been very pleased with the degree of reception we've received from anybody we've talked to," Robinson said.

"All levels of staff, the deputy ministers, and including the ministers — they're all aware of what we're trying to do and are really supportive of trying to find the right way of accomplishing it."

Robinson said solar panel rentals are not yet an economical option for residential customers, but this should change soon as prices for the technology fall.

ray robinson, saint john energy

CEO Ray Robinson says provincial politicians are 'really supportive' of Saint John Energy's plans to generate electricity. (CBC)

In a few years, on-site battery storage units could be available for lease, along with solar panels, he said.

"I would say well within the five-year timeframe," Robinson said. "Maybe sooner, depending how the pricing continues to drop."

Enmax, the utility owned by the City of Calgary, has offered a solar panel leasing program since 2009.
Residential customers can get an array of 15 panels generating 4.5 kilowatts of electricity for about $60 a month with no down payment.

John Rilett, Enmax's director of enhanced energy services and renewables, said monthly charges can be much less when there is a down payment.

But he said the utility does not promote the program as a cost-saver for customers.

enmax solar panels

The City of Calgary-owned utility, Enmax, has leased solar panels to residential and commercial customers since 2009. Here a worker installs Enmax panels on a Leduc, Alta., recreation centre. (CBC)

"It's still the kind of product at the moment that works best for somebody who is interested in their environmental footprint," said Rilett. 

"They're interested in renewables, they're interested in generating some of their own energy on site. So that's the bulk of the [solar] market in Alberta right now."

Enmax is also piloting a program for home battery storage of electricity.

Robinson said Saint John Energy would like to have the option soon to generate, and possibly store, electricity on a bigger scale at the utility level. 

Wind power is one method under consideration.

Robinson said talks on that front continue with government and NB Power.

A spokesperson for the Department and Energy and Resources Development said legislative changes are not required for the rental or lease of solar panels by a utility.