Solar power not yet heating up B.C. 0
Even though the sun is finally shining, Lower Mainlanders aren't jumping on the solar express for their energy needs despite the region's perceived image as a sustainability leader.
Sarj Sethi, project developer for Richmond-based Future Energy, said there simply aren't enough government incentives to motivate locals like in other provinces.
Vancouver - which aims to be the world's greenest city by 2020 - introduced bylaws in 2009 to make installing solar power systems easier, but city staff do not track the number of houses with those units.
Sethi estimates his company has installed 100 home systems in Vancouver the past year and another 20 in Richmond - a fraction of the potential locations. A 2012 B.C. Assessment report pegs Vancouver's total single-family residences at about 81,000.
Future Energy's Ontario office, however, gets orders for about 100 units each week where homeowners receive 42 cents for every kilowatt they put back into the grid.
BC Hydro gives Sethi just 10 cents a kilowatt for the power generated from his own home's system.
Still, he said the investment is worth it - the price of a basic unit costs about $8,000 - since the utilities company gives him about $1,200 annually for the returned energy.
If the government was serious about promoting renewable energy, Sethi said they could mandate developers install solar starter kits in new homes or else get BC Hydro to set incentives comparable to Ontario's.
But GEMCo president Aldeyn Donnelly, whose not-for profit corporation specializes in managing greenhouse gas emissions, said the central Canadian province's model actually risks souring consumers on solar energy.
"I would argue that the Ontario policies are not sustainable," she said, explaining solar panel companies are already going out of business there as they compete for subsides that are both highly lucrative and increasingly short in supply.
Furthermore, Donnelly argues consumers will pay higher costs overall since Ontario cannot afford to perpetually pay lofty rates to solar users providing energy to the grid.
Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr said she supports more renewable energy systems in residential areas, adding it's up to the provincial and federal governments to beef up subsidies and make renewable energy systems more alluring to residents.
She bought two solar hot water systems for her vacation home on the Sunshine Coast when the federal government was offering a 50% subsidy in the 1980s.
It took five years to see a return on the investment, and she's enjoyed free hot water since.
"I'm a user of the system. They work. Subsidies makes sense from an environmental and energy perspective, as well as an economic perspective."