Here's a question for you: you are a civil servant with an innovative new
program that will benefit both the environment and local business. Do you A)
unveil the program, get tons of people to sign up and then hope you'll get the
money somewhere to pay for it, or B) make sure you have the financing in place
before you go public?
The people behind Halifax's Solar City project went with option A and so
far, the whole thing has not only been a major disappointment, it is actually
hurting the very businesses it was supposed to help.
As we reported this week,
more than a year and a half after it was
unveiled, there is still no money to start buying and installing solar panels on
homes throughout the city (under the program the city would pay for the panels
up front with the costs amortized over time on the homeowner's property
I spoke with three different solar panel dealers about this story. Every
one of them was shocked to hear the city still didn't have the $6 million it
needs to get the project off the ground. They all assumed that when the program
was announced the city either had the financing already secured, or had firm
assurances they would get it.
That wasn't the case and their business is suffering because of it.
When the project was announced the response was so overwhelming the city
had to cap the number of applications at 1,600. Those homeowners are still
waiting to hear if the project is a go. In talking to these folks, dealers say
even some of the most committed are holding off to see if they'll get financing
from the city before buying. For the solar dealers that's hundreds of potential
customers - but few orders. As one dealer confided to me this week "we are
barely holding on".
A friend of mine who is a successful salesman has a saying that goes
something like "nothing kills a sale like time." Eighteen months after
homeowners rushed to sign on to Solar City, people in the industry are worried
the long delays will have dampened the enthusiasm.
To make matters worse the financial incentives aren't nearly as attractive.
When Solar City was first unveiled, homeowners who installed solar panels would
have qualified for rebates totaling more than $3,700, almost half the cost of
the job. But Ottawa has since cancelled its program, so the only one available
now is a $1,250 rebate from Efficiency Nova Scotia
Solar City isn't dead yet. The city is still hoping to secure financing
from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (although it initially rejected
the request), and city staff are preparing a report for next month's council
meeting that could give councillors other options to save the program.
Everyone involved is hoping it can be saved. Solar City is an innovative
program that has attracted attention around the world. But by unveiling it
before they had the money in their hands to pay for it, a project that should
have made Halifax an environmental leader, has so far, only succeeded in
hampering the growth of solar energy.