Solar panels are seen on part of the roof of a beige building on a grey day. Another roof in the back of the building is red.
Solar panels on the roof of Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Station 62 in Williamswood. — Photo:

A Halifax regional councillor wants the municipality to intervene in Nova Scotia Power’s proposal to charge a new fee for solar power.

The utility included the proposed fee, $8 monthly for every kilowatt of installed capacity, in its application to the provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB) to hike power rates 10% over the next three years. It’s being called a “system access charge” for new customers who generate solar electricity and receive credit for the excess from Nova Scotia Power (NSP) through a process known as “net-metering.”

The change means solar panels won’t make financial sense for most ratepayers, and as Jennifer Henderson reported for the Halifax Examiner on Monday, the proposal has been met with widespread opposition.

NSP now appears to have heard at least part of that opposition, and announced it’s delaying the proposal.

On Tuesday, president and CEO Peter Gregg said in a statement that the utility would delay implementation for one year. That means customers who had systems installed before February 1, 2023 would be exempt from the new fee.

While the delay may reduce uncertainty in the short-term, it’s unlikely to quell opposition to the plan, and Coun. Sam Austin wants the municipality to add its voice to that opposition.

“We want a serious upscaling of solar over the next couple years as part of HalifACT and that will be impossible if the economics of it get destroyed by Nova Scotia Power,” he said in an interview.

Austin has drafted a motion for next week’s council meeting to “direct the CAO to seek intervenor status in the upcoming Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearing regarding proposed revised Net Metering Rates that are being sought by Nova Scotia Power.”

“Nova Scotia Power’s proposed changes in net metering rates has the potential to greatly undermine HRM’s Climate Change Plan, HalifACT. HalifACT calls for the installation of 1,300 [megwatts] of rooftop solar by 2030 (6 mws installed so far),” Austin wrote in the reasoning for the draft motion.

“Achieving that aggressive target will not be possible if the economics of solar power are greatly diminished. HRM should examine the potential impact of the new proposed rates and formally present concerns regarding the impact on the solar industry and the resulting ability of the municipality to deliver on our climate change plan to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.”

While the Examiner’s interview with Austin was conducted before NSP announced its plan to delay implementation, the Dartmouth Centre councillor said in an email he believes it’s still worth intervening “to make sure that the public interest in tackling climate change is part of the discussion.”

HRM has hitched a significant portion of its climate mitigation hopes on rooftop solar installations.

HalifACT 2050, the city’s climate action plan, includes a goal to reduce the municipality’s carbon emissions, measured in kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (kt CO2e) from 3,880 kt CO2e to 300 kt CO2e by 2050. Of that amount, 670 kt CO2e comes from rooftop solar — about 19% of the planned reduction.

A wedge diagram from HalifACT 2050, showing carbon reductions from different categories of action. Rooftop solar is green. Credit: Zane Woodford

“It’s the second biggest portion of emission reduction that we need to achieve to achieve HalifACT, that rooftop solar portion,” Kevin Boutilier, HRM’s clean energy specialist, said in an interview.

Boutilier said HalifACT’s current modelling is based on a 2019 projection of the cleanliness of NSP’s grid. If the utility were to meet the obligation proposed under the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, to shift to 80% renewable energy by 2030, that modelling would change.

“But without that, this amount of rooftop solar is 100% required,” he said.

Boutilier runs the Solar City program, which provides financing to HRM property owners looking to install solar systems on their buildings. Boutilier said the program’s uptake peaked in 2019, when according to his recent report, the municipality executed 217 Solar City agreements. Boutilier estimated there were about 190 in 2021.

“Going forward, if this [NSP] proposal were to proceed, I would expect the installations to dwindle quite a bit,” he said, echoing concerns from the solar industry.

“We’ve gotten a fair bit of feedback from property owners that are in the process of thinking about going solar that are putting their system on hold to see what happens with the proposal.”

While the proposal from NSP would significantly curtail property owners’ solar installation, Boutilier said the municipality would be mostly insulated. He said he read through the proposal and spoke with Nova Scotia Power directly, and the fee would apply only to smaller ratepayers, those paying residential and small general rates.

About 90% of HRM’s buildings pay the general rate, and wouldn’t be affected.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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