Nova Scotia

N.S. Power drops proposed fee that opponents said would destroy solar industry

The news came hours after Premier Tim Houston announced the province would pass laws to prevent the charge.

Utility said Wednesday it would withdraw its application, hours after premier said province would intervene

About 4,000 homes in Nova Scotia use solar power, including this one. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Nova Scotia Power has announced it will withdraw its application for a solar net metering charge following days of outcry from homeowners, green energy companies and elected officials over the controversial plan.

The company applied to the province's regulator last week for various changes, including a "system access charge" of $8 per kilowatt monthly on net metered installations, a fee that opponents said would decimate the province's burgeoning solar industry.

"It is clear to us that the complexity of the solar net metering issue means the right decision is to withdraw our application for the system access charge and we will immediately take the necessary steps to do so," said Peter Gregg, president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power, in a statement Wednesday.

The utility's announcement came hours after the province said it would pass laws to prevent the charge over fear it would harm the solar sector.

In a news release, Premier Tim Houston said his Progressive Conservative government agrees the net metering program needs changes, but not ones that would discourage people from embracing green energy projects.

"The changes we seek will support the greening of the grid," Houston said in a news release.

"Our government will bring forward the necessary legislative and regulatory framework that will protect ratepayers and the solar industry in Nova Scotia and help achieve our environment and climate change reduction goals."

Most net metering customers are residential

The vast majority of the province's 4,100 net metering customers are residential customers with solar power, according to the power company's application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB).

Those customers generate their own power from the sun and can also contribute any excess electricity they produce back to the grid. They can receive credits to offset their own costs when they draw power from the grid when they aren't able to generate their own solar power, such as after the sun sets. 

Houston posted a letter addressed to UARB chair Peter Gurnham on social media, detailing his government's plans and accusing Nova Scotia Power of being "out of step with Nova Scotians and their environmental ambitions."

Nova Scotia Power had proposed the new system access charge would start this week, but on Tuesday pushed back the date by a year. Gregg acknowledged Tuesday the solar industry had been "taken off guard" by the inclusion of the charge in the utility's application to the UARB. 

Houston said the province will ensure the proposed charge doesn't happen and said it will keep the enhanced net metering program as it was on Jan. 26 — the day before Nova Scotia Power submitted its application.

Premier Tim Houston, seen here in October 2021, accused Nova Scotia Power of being 'out of step with Nova Scotians and their environmental ambitions' in a letter to the UARB. (Robert Short/CBC)

He also said his government will apply to be an active intervener on the utility's proposed 10 per cent rate increase for residential customers over the next three years. 

Government response will 'provide certainty'

"We have come too far in our fight against climate change and expanding access to renewable energy to risk that progress," Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton said in a news release.

"The changes we will bring forward will stop the proposed system access charge in its tracks today and provide certainty for our solar industry and rate-paying families investing in solar."

Houston said promoting solar is an important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Nova Scotia and the province wants to make it accessible to more people, including renters and small businesses. 

The province wants to see 80 per cent of Nova Scotia's electricity generated by renewable means by 2030.

Solar business lost $50K in a day

Lyle Goldberg, who runs a solar distribution company, said the premier saved the solar industry with his pledge Wednesday. Goldberg said people installing solar panels were looking at a $960 annual fee for a 10-kilowatt system in Nova Scotia.

"That would have cut your savings in half and increased an average payback period from 10 years to 25 years, which is essentially the life of the system. So it literally would have killed grid-tied solar installations in this province," said Goldberg, who sits on the board of Solar Nova Scotia, a non-profit industry organization.

He said when Nova Scotia Power made the annual fee announcement, people were calling up solar companies and cancelling installations.

"I lost $50,000 worth of orders in one day and I know others experienced the same thing, so now we're backtracking and saying, 'No, everything is back to normal, status quo, let's keep moving forward,'" he said.

Goldberg said there is now more time to work with Nova Scotia Power, the province and Efficiency Nova Scotia to come up with a better solution. He said the utility can't make any changes in a vacuum.

"The ball is in our court as far as I'm concerned, and when you have the support of the premier and Nova Scotians in general, they're going to have to come to the table and they're going to have to demonstrate flexibility in policy decision," he said.

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With files from Tom Murphy

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