Future of solar panel rebate program in hands of Efficiency Manitoba

A pilot project that has helped drive the expansion of solar energy in Manitoba over the past couple of years winds down at the end of April with no clear indication of what will replace it.

Solar Energy Program, which ‘kickstarted’ industry in Manitoba, ends April 30

Workers install solar panels at a dairy farm in Otterburne, Man. (Pierre Verriere/CBC)

A pilot project that has helped drive the expansion of solar energy in Manitoba over the past couple of years winds down at the end of April with no clear indication of what will replace it.

April 30 is the last day for people to apply to Manitoba Hydro's Solar Energy Program, a two-year pilot project to help people pay to install solar panels.

"The program was always designed to last two years in part so we could gauge customer uptake and learn how customer-owned solar generation fit into our system," Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an email.

The program provided customers with $1 per watt installed for projects up to 200 kilowatts, about 25 per cent of the cost.

Owen said the future of solar energy rebate programs in Manitoba will be a decision for Efficiency Manitoba, the newly created Crown corporation responsible for administering energy efficiency programs in the province.

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen has said the board of Efficiency Manitoba will be appointed in the next couple months, and should be fully operational by the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Justin Phillips, president and CEO of Solar Manitoba, said almost all of his company's business in Manitoba came through the program and he's disappointed to see it go, but he's confident something will replace it.

"I think once they have an understanding and more of a plan in place and some direction and some leadership set up within Efficiency Manitoba that they will seriously consider a solar program in some capacity here in Manitoba. They'd be silly not to," he said.

200 more installations booked

Solar Manitoba has completed around 60 solar installations through the program, with another 200 yet to be completed.

The Solar Energy Program "kickstarted" the industry in Manitoba, Phillips said. Solar Manitoba has grown from two employees to close to 30, and Phillips expects to grow to close to 40 before the end of the year.

While Manitoba has long enjoyed some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, Hydro has said it plans to apply for 7.9 per cent increases for the next several years. Meanwhile, the cost of installing solar panels has fallen from about $10-$11 per watt in 2009 to about $2 per watt currently, Phillips said.

Although he's confident his company, the largest solar installer in the province, will survive, Phillips said the end of the program is already having an impact on some smaller companies.

We've already started to see a drop in installers, either stopping doing solar or not believing that there's an opportunity anymore because the rebate's going away. That's just natural selection," Phillips said.

The project received more than 1,000 applications, with 790 approved. In total, Hydro has paid $5.1 million through the program to install photovoltaic systems across Manitoba, with about 80 per cent of those in rural areas.

Phillips thinks Hydro was unprepared for the number of applications the program received. Although the program requires all installations to be complete by the end of March 2019, Phillips said he thinks there will be discussions to extend that timeline due to the volume of projects.

Owen said the Residential Earth Power Loan program remains in place. It provides financing up to $30,000 for residential solar projects, as well as geothermal. 

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.