solar panels

The chair of a non-profit group representing solar installation companies across the province says Nova Scotia Power is making progress approving plans for hundreds of stalled solar projects. In January, the provincial government indicated it would bring in legislation to prevent the power company from charging homeowners and businesses a new system access fee to connect with the provincial grid.

Companies affiliated with Solar Nova Scotia went public a few weeks ago with complaints that plans for projects submitted to Nova Scotia Power for review in January and February had yet to be processed. Those companies said as a result, the industry was at “a virtual standstill”— unable to order panels or schedule jobs this summer unless Nova Scotia Power sped up its planning review process.

“We are optimistic things are moving in the right direction right now. We have seen an improvement,” David Brushett, the chair of Solar Nova Scotia, told the Examiner. “We feel Nova Scotia Power has taken action over the past few weeks and we are hearing positive responses from installers.”

Brushett said meetings between Solar Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia Power have improved communication and installers say plans for new installations are finally getting off the drawing board. Brushett said he hopes that dialogue will continue.

“Nova Scotia Power said they were going to bring in internal resources to do the plan reviews and try to get through the backlog within the next three weeks,” Brushett said. He added that the utility agreed there is a need to “develop standards around timelines” so installers have an estimate for how long approvals may take. Timeline standards will be discussed at a meeting planned for mid-June.

Last fall, a survey of Solar Nova Scotia members found the average wait time for approval from Nova Scotia Power was three months. In November, the Examiner asked Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster why installers were waiting.

“We have seen an unprecedented increase of interconnection requests, mostly solar, due to the ongoing interest and uptake of the net metering program and we continue to process those requests,” Foster said. “Some require engineering design work, meter installations, and other equipment upgrades to ensure safe and reliable installations at each site, which can take time to organize and expedite. COVID created additional constraints to complete the work in a timely manner.”

Dave Brushett said while “the bottleneck” has been at the front end of the process, there are also waits once the solar installation nears completion. Unlike most Canadian provinces that require just one safety inspection by the utility before the solar installation can be connected to the grid, the province of Nova Scotia requires two inspections. The Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CANREA) suggests most jurisdictions have been able to cut the red tape associated with the inspection process by allowing installers to send the power company a photo of the work-in-progress prior to sending an inspector for a final, on-site safety check before activating the connection to the grid.

In April, the Houston government passed a series of amendments to the Electricity Act, although regulations are not yet in place. One of the changes that was supposed to make it easier for small solar projects to proceed waived the requirement for the homeowner to apply for an interconnection from Nova Scotia Power, as well as sign an Interconnection Agreement. The change applies to solar projects below 27 kilowatts. Up until this week, Nova Scotia Power was still requiring that paperwork to be completed.

Brushett said solar installers have now received an email from Nova Scotia Power advising them those documents are no longer necessary. Brushett said he interprets this as a positive sign the utility and the solar installers may be able to mend their fences.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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