The provincial government wants to know the viability of commercial solar power.

Energy Minister Michel Samson said details of a pilot project, as well as an invitation for groups to participate, should come in short order. The move is the latest step in bringing more renewable energy sources to Nova Scotia as the government continues its effort to lower emissions, he said Thursday. 

"Even without government, solar energy has been developing in this province, especially on the residential side where people have taken the initiative," he told reporters.

Looking at the viability

As an example, the minister pointed to the recent efforts of the Antigonish Community Energy Co-op, where homeowners and municipal groups partnered to buy solar panels to lower installation costs and share energy.

The focus of the pilot project will be to explore the commercial viability of solar energy in the province, whether it's affordable, and if it can fit within the existing renewable mix, which includes wind, hydro from Muskrat Falls and tidal power.

One of the challenges of solar energy in Nova Scotia is peak demand for energy comes late in the day during the winter, when there is no sun. For solar energy to be held so it can be used at a later time, a system must include a battery for storage. Despite the challenge, department officials say it's time to know if commercial solar can work here.

People want green power, but not high rates

Samson said there are no performance targets for the project, but whatever happens it cannot have a negative impact on power rates.

"Ratepayers have told us very clearly — Nova Scotians — that they want more options when it comes to energy, they want more green options, but they don't want to pay more."

Looking to upgrade transmission grid

Meanwhile, the minister said work continues on the details of the recently announced cap-and-trade plan that will come into effect in 2018.

He said the government is also in talks with other provinces about how to upgrade the transmission capacity between Quebec and Nova Scotia, a move that would allow for better sharing of power and the potential to export excess capacity to the United States.

With files from Jean Laroche