Feed-in Tariff rates change, but the program still offers investors an attractive ROI
As of March 15 2012, the Ontario Power Authority set new tariff rates for its FIT and microFIT programs. The solar installation industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as manufacturers and installers are finally able get back to work after months of delay caused by the tariff review process. With the first tariff review complete, the new rates see a reduction of 30%. Does this dramatic drop in revenue render Feet-in Tariff programs untenable?
New Feed-in Tariff rates for Ontario
A 30% decrease in tariffs may seem like a giant leap for some, but the incredible drop in panel prices helps to absorb most of this reduction. The reduction helps to create a renewable energy plan for the province that is sustainable and offers fair compensation for renewable energy. Rooftop mounted Feed-in Tariff systems of 10 kW or smaller will now receive 54.9 c/kWh and ground-mounted units of 10 kW will receive remuneration of 44.5 c/kWh. See a full table of pricing here. All applications submitted after September 1, 2011 will be subject to the new tariffs.
The 60% local content stipulation for those who wish to participate in the FIT and microFIT programs has meant that a growing local industry has been created. This industry of panel manufacturers and installers has floundered in the months it has taken the government to review the Feed-in Tariff programs. Thousands of jobs have been created and millions invested in the province to meet the demand created by these programs. The OPA has to price the programs fairly so that this burgeoning industry is able to survive. Tariff cuts may seem drastic, but they reflect the massive reductions in panel prices and the Feed-in Tariff programs remain viable for prospective applicants.
Prospective Feed-in Tariff applicants can still look forward to a 15% yearly ROI on both rooftop microFIT and FIT projects and 12.4% on a ground mounted tracking systems. If you are considering a unit, it may be pertinent to remember that the government will be reviewing tariffs every two years. It’s best to act now while tariffs are at a premium.
Feed-in Tariff in action
When SolarLine Power was asked to install a microFIT system on an apartment block, they met with some challenges. The 2.5 story building contained 6 apartments on three floors and the challenge was to maximize the total kW amount to the microFIT 10kW maximum. Other tenders were unable to design systems over 5kW due to weight limitations on the roof which could only safely sustain a total of no more than 5 pounds per square foot. The full quota of panels needed to be installed for the project to be financially viable.
SolarLine Power, a local Ontario solar panel installation company, designed a system for the flat roof that consisted of 36 solar roof panels (9kW) with non-penetrating ballast weighing approximately 3000 pounds over 855 square feet resulting in an average additional load of less than 3.6 pounds per square foot. Additional pales were mounted on a custom awning attached to the side of the building.
Solar System Size
11.4kWh DC – 8.78kWh AC (77% derate factor)
AC Output Average Over 1 year
Daily: 36 kWh
Monthly: 1,098 kWh
Yearly: 13,148 kWh
1 Month: $879
1 Year: $10,545
5 Years: $55,383
20 Years: $221,439
With a 15% ROI, the solar installation pays for itself in no time at all and then goes on to make the property owners a tidy sum. If you are considering a Feed-in Tariff install, it’s still well worth it. With the nest OPA review scheduled in two year’s time, its best to act soon.
Selling Solar Power Into The Ontario Grid—A Case Study
Ontario MicroFIT installs can be a dream come true or a nightmare on wheels. Picking the right contractor is the most essential ingredient in the recipe for installing solar panels properly. Navigating the application and approval process alone can be time consuming and frustrating. Find a contractor that will help you to submit your application to the OPA, collect all the relevant paperwork and obtain conditional approval. SolarLine Power will be with you every step of the way. From the initial application process to final inspection, they will bring their extensive experience in the microFIT solar panel installation game to bare.
Once a conditional approval has been obtained from the OPA, you need to design your ideal solar panel installation. Many homeowners are horrified to find that their solar panels are not correctly oriented, are shaded by other panels or surrounding buildings and trees, or make their roof look unattractive. SolarLine Power knows how to install solar panels properly. They will monitor your home’s exposure to the sun to find the solar panel orientation that produces the optimum number of sun hours a day. SolarLine Power custom designs systems to match individual roofs, ensures that the panels have a Canadian Safety Standards approval and are manufactured from 60% local content. Many homeowners purchase cheaper panels, only to discover that the panels do not meet the 60% domestic content requirement and will have to be replaced in order to pass the final inspection. Said Christine of 350 or Bust; “Hire professional installers, unless you have a LOT more time than money. If you are planning to be part of the Ontario microFIT program, make sure that you meet the domestic content requirements as outlined on the OPA microFIT website. In 2011, the program requires that 60% of your materials and installation be considered Ontario-based.”
When Kirk Fergusson decided to avail himself of the financial benefits and clean energy that microFIT offers, he trusted SolarLine Power to install his solar panels properly. The team at SolarLine Power handled his application and helped him to obtain conditional approval and approval for his building plans. Kirk’s house has a signature dark green roof. Its corner-lot orientation makes the roof very visible and, in order to maintain its aesthetic appeal, SolarLine Power opted for a modern black panel that blended with the dark green shingles.
The steep roof angle and window peak offered further challenges, but the SolarLine Power team shifted some vents and designed a system that maximized roof exposure while maintaining the home’s gorgeous exterior. They even aligned the edges of the panels with the edges of the roof.
The completed system consists of a Solar Edge 5kWh single phase centralized inverter, Solar Edge power box optimizers, Heliene 245 Watt solar modules (these are the black panels) and a Schuco Solar EZ roof mounting system. This left Kirk with 24 panels which cover 450 ft² and weigh about 1, 150 lbs. The daily output of about 19 kWh (this is averaged over the year) adds up to 6, 784 kWh annually.
Now Kirk Fergusson can look forward to putting fistfuls of SunMoney into his pocket every month. He can expect a monthly saving of $453 on utilities which adds up to $5, 441 annually. Over a 5-year period, the SolarLine Power system will save a massive $27,205. As solar panels have a 20-life expectancy, Kirk can expect to save $114, 256 over the next 20 years.
SolarLine Power has a qualified electrician on staff to provide the final inspection once the system is installed. This can be an unexpected expense if your solar panel installer does not have an in-house electrician. SolarLine Power will also guide you through the final inspections and grid hook-up process.
The microFIT program and a properly installed solar panel system can provide welcome relief from rising utilities bills, earn the property owner SunMoney each month and provide the occupants with clean, renewable energy they can be proud of.
“The guys from Solarline were great. They helped us navigate the microFIT and building application and approval process, designed a good-looking and efficient solar panel system and took extra care to ensure the system was installed properly.”
– Kirk Fergusson
Feed-in-tariff system the most successful renewable energy policy worldwide, studies show
Development of renewable energy eases the high cost of fossil fuel and nuclear energy borne by governments worldwide. The green energy sector is one of the few actually creating new jobs in many of the world’s floundering economies. Both developed and developing economies are benefitting from renewable energy initiatives, the most smashingly successful of which is Ontario’s Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) system according to a recent REN21 study.
The rock star of the renewable energy industry, FIT programs have been so successful that over 75% of solar and 45% of wind energy is harvested through them globally. This makes them the most popular energy policy worldwide according to a recent study. Over 75 countries, states and provinces across the globe have instituted FIT programs in one form or another.
These policies vary to fit the landscape of the economies in which they are instituted, but one lesson is abundantly clear in all of them; the devil is in the detail. FIT prices need to be attractive enough to entice home and business owners to install solar panels, but this is irrelevant if access to the grid is not cheap and easy. Although most FIT programs claim to be modelled on the success of the German endeavour, none have reached quite such dizzying heights. The reason for this is that most residents do not enjoy the same easy access to their power grid as do the Germans.
If a German homeowner (let’s call him Fritz) gets approval for his FIT project, he need wait for connection to the grid only as long as it takes him to install his panels. That’s because Fritz’s microFIT system has priority over all other energy sources. Renewable sources of energy not only enjoy priority in Germany, Fritz actually has a “right to sell electricity to the grid”, according to Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act. This means that when Fritz gets approval for his microFIT installation (a process that runs as smoothly as a German auto) he can rest assured that his local electricity provider will be paying him an income in a couple of days. Failing to do so would be a violation of his rights.
MicroFIT tariffs are what attract investors from the outset. They range from as much as 88 cents per kWh in Switzerland to as little as 22.4 cents per kWh in Hawaii. Currently, Ontario residents enjoy a tariff of 80.2 cents per kWh, although this price is due for adjustment in the fall.
During the recent Ontario elections, rising hydro bills were blamed on the FIT and microFIT programs. This fatuous allegation failed to note that the average household pays less than 50 cents to solar initiatives. This is expected to rise to only 70 cents by 2018. This year alone, the solar industry contributed $2 billion and 8,200 jobs to the Province. The extensive refurbishments to nuclear and gas facilities currently underway in Ontario will double hydro bills in the next 10 to 15 years.
Although many Ontarians have successfully installed microFIT and FIT programs and are currently reaping the benefits of optimum FIT tariffs, others have had delays in getting their systems hooked up to the grid. In some cases, residents have invested in their microFIT systems only to be told that they could wait a year or longer before gaining access to the grid. This has occurred mostly in rural areas where archaic electrical infrastructure does not allow for the inclusion of residential solar systems. It is imperative that you get approval and check the connectivity of your local electrical provider prior to investing in a FIT system.
Too many solar installers simply install the system and leave homeowners to sort through the paperwork. The Province is making inroads into streamlining the system and catching up with the backlog of applications. In the interim, don’t let the horror stories put you off. Find a solar installer that will help you every step of the way. Solar installers need to help you to obtain building permits, authorizations and inspections. It’s best if your solar power installer has a licensed electrician who can inspect the system once complete.
Take advantage of our prime microFIT tariffs (second only to Switzerland’s) before they get revised. Owning your own microFIT system will make you money, add value to your home and contribute positively to the environment. Make your own energy. Put SUNMONEY.CA in your pocket today.
Jim Creeggan of the Barenaked Ladies leads by example
It’s not every day that one meets a rock star with a pleasant disposition. In this regard, Jim Creeggan is a singular specimen. The mild mannered bassist of the Barenaked Ladies is not only nice, he also has a well developed social conscience. I recently met with Jim to talk about solar and his soon to be connected microFIT system. Although he is availing himself of the new microFIT incentive system that the Ontario government has instituted to help grow renewable energy in the province, he is no stranger to solar. A pioneer of renewable energy, Jim’s solar system is almost six years old and has sustained his home and family in Toronto through the years.
Jim comes from a long line of environmental activists and was inspired to seek more natural ways to live. He opted to install solar at a time when it was neither easy nor did it come with the incentives that today’s Ontario microFIT program offers. While Jim’s focus was on providing his own energy, most of today’s homeowners recognise that microFIT makes economic sense. Not that he is resentful of that — he wants to see the homes of his Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood covered in solar panels; an electric car in every garage and a free range chicken in every pot. “I don’t want people to think that solar panels are things that crazy rock stars put up, it should be available to every homeowner,” said Jim. Solar panels are no longer the vestige of the rich and famous. Thanks to the vast reductions in panel prices, solar is affordable for the masses.
The microFIT program has been criticised on the grounds that other grid users will have to pay for subsidies that yield large profits for homeowners. Although the initial incentives are high to garner support for the project, the government intends to curb the incentives as more homeowners sign up for microFIT. This is a development Jim approves of: “It’s important to give the home and business owner a reason to install solar and the government should help them to recoup that initial investment within three years, but then the returns should be sustainable. If everyone had a solar power system, we could really be proud of where our power was coming from.”
The myth of huge increases to hydro bills is unfounded; only about 1% of hydro revenue is set aside for microFIT use. Instead, the proposed solution to our future energy needs is the government’s $33 billion (up from an original estimate of $6 billion) nuclear plan which encompasses the refurbishment of four existing reactors at the Darlington and Bruce plants and the building of two new reactors at the Darlington plant. Critics claim hydro bills will double by the time this project is done — a far more pressing concern than the meagre costs of microFIT. Recent events in Japan and opposition to the transportation of radioactive materials through the St. Lawrence waterways also bring to bear concerns about the safety of nuclear energy.
Still not convinced? Then add to this the fact that solar power last year passed the great divide and currently costs less than nuclear power, per megawatt, to produce. Advances in solar panel technology led to drastic reductions in the cost of solar while nuclear costs have spiralled. The microFIT program results in profits for homeowners, provides clean, renewable energy and costs less than nuclear. The future of solar is so bright you will, indeed, need to wear shades.
However, opposition to the McGuinty government threatens to scuttle microFIT programs if they rise to power in the upcoming election. This is based on the notion that homeowners who take advantage of the microFIT system will have to be carried by the hydro payments of grid slaves. This is beyond short-sighted and does not account for the inflated costs of nuclear power. Nuclear power is no longer our most economically responsible decision. The microFIT program demands 60% local content for solar power systems which has resulted in an increase in green collar jobs and the establishment of several manufacturing plants and a plethora of installer, inspector and electrician positions. Most of these have a symbiotic relationship with microFIT and will not survive its demise. If you want to secure the future of microFIT and solar industries, visit stand-up-for solar and make your voice heard.
The OPA announced that all FIT and microFIT projects will be subject to administration fees ranging from $1 000 to $65 905 depending on the size of the project. The fees are said to contribute to streamlining the application process and providing training. The new fees structure will come into effect on March 15, 2011.
Fees are as follows:
- Solar – Class 3 (Solar PV installation 500 kilowatts or less): $1,000
- Solar – Class 3 (Solar farm): $12,844
- Wind – Class 2 (Micro/small turbine, under 50kW): $1,000
- Wind – Class 3 (Medium sized turbine, over 50kW): $10,030
- Wind – Class 4 (On-shore commercial wind farm): $40,000
- Wind – Class 4 (On-shore wind farm over 50 MW): $56,458
- Wind – Class 5 (Off-shore commercial wind farm): $67,905
- Anaerobic Digestion – Class 1 (on-farm, farm materials): $1,000
- Anaerobic Digestion – Class 2 (on-farm, ‘green bin’ and biomass & farm materials): $1,000
- Anaerobic Digestion – Class 3 (Industrial facility): $27,896
- Biogas (Landfill gas): $22,266
- Biofuel (Liquids, bio-diesel): $22,266
- Thermal Treatment – Class 1 (Wood burning): $22,782
- Thermal Treatment – Class 1 (On-farm, wood burning): $1,000
- Thermal Treatment – Class 2 (On-farm, wood and biomass burning): $1,000
- Thermal Treatment – Class 3 (Commercial biomass burning): $26,311
- Administrative Changes: $300
Smaller projects will not have fees.