Government casts shadow over future of Alberta solar industry

Clifton Lofthaug intended to hire more than 30 employees over the next year at his Edmonton-based solar energy company, but he's changing his mind.

Ending solar rebates will prevent job creation, limit growth, business owners say

The future of Alberta's solar energy is uncertain since the UCP government put an end to the rebates program put in place by the NDP. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Clifton Lofthaug intended to hire more than 30 employees over the next year at his Edmonton-based solar energy company, but he's changing his mind.

"We can't look at hiring right now," said Lofthaug, president of Great Canadian Solar.

"Whether it's engineering, installation, sales, support staff, what happens to those jobs? That's what's up in the air right now."

Shortly after winning the provincial election in April, the UCP put an end to initiatives introduced by the NDP aimed at stimulating growth in the renewable energy sector.

The initiatives included the Residential and Commercial Solar Program which offered rebates covering up to 35 per cent of the cost of installation of home and business solar projects.

The government website announced effective May 22, new applications are no longer being accepted for the program, though approved applications will continue to be processed.

The industry is already feeling the impact, said David Kelly, CEO of SkyFire Energy in Calgary. 

"We have seen a downturn in the number of people interested in renewables or in solar for their homes and businesses," Kelly said. 

"There are lots of companies out there that have told me that they're not going to survive this. It's kind of scary for the industry."

The Alberta government remains vague about its support of Alberta's solar industry, but according to a study commissioned by the Solar Energy Society of Alberta, the solar industry has the potential to add close to 10,000 jobs in Alberta over the next decade.

The report, prepared by Solas Energy Consulting in November 2018, estimates that Alberta's solar industry could be worth $4 billion in 2030. 

The rebates were crucial to that growth, Lofthaug said.

"The more people see it, the more the neighbours have it, the more businesses invest in it, the more people are likely to look at themselves and invest themselves," he said. 

"It's all about getting that momentum going, and we just hope the momentum doesn't stop because that would be unfortunate."

The UCP decision to kill the rebate program goes against their promise to stimulate job creation, said Kelly.

"We're quite frustrated that they're not seeing it as part of Alberta's energy, and supporting it in the way they're supporting other energy sources in Alberta."

A worker from Great Canadian Solar installs solar panels on the roof of an Edmonton business. (Genevieve Tardif/ CBC)

Investing in other provinces

Kelly and Lofthaug both want to expand their companies, but are unsure if that expansion will happen in Alberta. 

Lofthaug is growing his presence in Saskatchewan where the government offers rebates of up to 20 per cent through SaskPower, the provincial utility.

"We're exploring opportunities in that field or in that space, just to diversify our geographical exposure," he said.

Kelly is also established in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, but the majority of the jobs created by his company are in Alberta.

His preference is to stay in the province, but wonders if that will be possible. 

"How do you sustain a business when you've got a government that doesn't support the industry?"

He's still hoping that the provincial government will reverse its decision and re-establish the solar rebates.

"It makes economic sense. It does create jobs. It does spur the economy. It has all kinds of benefits to the province," Kelly said. 

With files from Marie-Pier Mercier. 


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