In 2011, the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) made the first step toward one of the most innovative and forward-thinking renewable energy policies in Canada. Their goal was to develop a community energy program that would help Halifax reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The municipality chose to implement a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that offers low interest financing for the installation of solar panels. Two years later Halifax’s own PACE program, Solar City, began providing homeowners, non-profits, places of worship and co-ops with competitive financing for solar power. The only requirement? That the property owner is in good financial standing with the municipality (i.e. property taxes and any other outstanding fees or charges placed on the property.)
How It Works:
Solar City offers complete ten-year fixed financing at a 4.75% interest rate for the installation of solar panels. The charge is place on the property however re-payment is separate from the annual property tax bill. Applicants may choose any contractor who is able to pass a third party verification. After the HRM conducts a feasibility assessment of the proposed project, and approves financing, the contractor can begin. Once the system is installed and approved by required permitting bodies, the contractor is paid in full and the property owner begins re-payment. This financing is not only helping building owners to reduce Nova Scotia’s carbon footprint, but also enables them to start saving money from day one. Even for those who don’t intend to finance their solar projects, Solar City represents a valuable source of unbiased and technical advice. I spoke with Kevin Boutilier to find out why so many building owners are investing in solar panels.
“Halifax is the best place in Canada to put solar panels on your roof” – Kevin Boutilier, Solar City Officer
The Solar City program is a cornerstone piece of the municipality’s community energy plan and delivers on three of the plan’s goals: 1. Increase energy security and diversify energy supply, 2. Demonstrate local government leadership, and 3. Educate and engage residents and businesses. With over $9.7 million dollars worth of solar projects and annual energy savings of over $640,000 for ratepayers, it’s safe to say this program is making serious headway.
Since Solar City’s inception, much has changed in the world of solar. When the program first started, the technology available for financing was limited to solar hot water. This technologies uses the sun’s rays to distribute heated water throughout a building. However, from 2013 to 2019 there has been a dramatic 30% decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells (i.e. solar panels that produce electricity). The decline in price of solar PV has made it a cost competitive inclusion to the 2015 Solar City program expansion, and the technology of choice for most program participants.
Solar City’s financing isn’t the only thing sweetening the deal for solar adopters. Efficiency Nova Scotia, Canada’s first energy efficiency utility, also offers handsome rebates for solar PV panels. Today, rebates of 35%, or up to $8,500, on complete system costs are available for all Nova Scotians. Without including Efficiency Nova Scotia’s rebates, Solar City participants are seeing investment paybacks of on 13.5 years on average, and a return on investment of 178% over the 25 year solar panel lifespan. Together, these two programs offer an attractive opportunity for Halifax residents looking to get involved in the renewable energy transition.
Perhaps the most important support for solar adopters, however, is Nova Scotia Power’s Enhanced Net Metering program. The net metering arrangement allows for Nova Scotians to sell excess generated electricity to the grid while still being able to rely on the gird for when the generation isn’t enough to meet their demand. Without this program, all electricity produced would need to be used on site. Due to solar PV’s variation in energy generation throughout the day, this would significantly limit the capacity that could be installed on a building.
Coming to a Municipality Near You!
While Halifax was the first in Nova Scotia to implement a PACE program, other municipalities have been taking notes. Since Solar City’s inception over 10 other PACE programs have been created to help lower the cost of their residents energy bills including: Solar Colchester, Bridgewater’s Clean Energy Financing program, and the Berwick Green Energy Program. These programs are also helping residents finance energy efficiency upgrades for their homes.
So what does it really take to create an effective PACE program? Well the truth is, we’re not totally sure just yet. PACE programs are new to Nova Scotia and there is a still a lot to learn. While we may not have all the answers, Solar City Officer Kevin Boutilier has a pretty good idea of what an effective PACE program requires:
- A full time and enthusiastic staff person who knows the in’s and outs of the project types included in the PACE program.
- Full collaboration within a municipality’s business unit.
- Aim for a self-funding program design that is covered by the municipal loan interest rate.
What is next for Solar City? Bigger and better things it seems. In January, the HRM Solar City by-law was amended to include other clean energy projects such as energy efficiency and battery storage. With advances in technology driving down the cost of clean energy, Solar City is poised to be the great enabler of clean energy projects at the local level. PACE programs are creating opportunities for Nova Scotians to invest their hardearned dollars back into their properties, reduce the amount they spend on energy, and support their local economy.
Learn more about these programs at: