The Ottawa-based vice-president of sales and marketing for SolPowered Energy Corp. has travelled to both council chambers and chicken coops to talk to property owners about making money from rooftop solar panels.
Since the start of the year, she’s made her pitch to an Embrun agriculture association, all eight mayors in Prescott-Russell and scheduled meetings with the National Capital Commission and officials in rural municipalities between Ottawa and Cornwall.
But she’s not alone.
“We’re crossing paths with more and more (competitors). Clients will often have four proposals on the table,” says Ms. Cyr.
Across the Ottawa region, companies are racing to sign deals with owners of prime properties to install rooftop solar panels. The market is fuelled by a provincial program, known as a feed-in tariff, which promises green energy producers a premium price for their power for 20 years.
This guaranteed return is attracting investors, whose willingness to back solar companies offering financing and leasing options makes installations more accessible to building owners. They would otherwise have to pay upfront capital costs in the neighbourhood of $1 million for a 30,000-square-foot rooftop.
“It’s not hard to find financing for this anymore, and we are getting very good rates,” says Mike Peterman, an Ottawa-based regional sales manager with SKY OZZ International, which builds rooftop solar projects.
“The rush is on to lock up the big rooftops,” he adds.
Adding to the urgency is speculation within the industry that the province will eventually reduce the rates it pays to renewable energy producers, lowering the returns of future participants in the feed-in tariff program.
SKY OZZ recently finalized a deal with Home Depot to install rooftop solar panels atop 60 of the retailer’s Ottawa and Toronto stores, says Mr. Peterman.
In another high-profile deal, Loblaws announced earlier this month that it plans to outfit up to 136 of its Ontario locations with solar panels, starting with four pilot projects that include the grocer’s Orleans store on Innes Road.
Home Depot and Loblaws were part of the first round of approvals granted by the Ontario Power Authority this month for large-scale solar projects under the feed-in tariff program.
While more than 500 projects received the authority’s blessing – including roughly 200 applications from SKY OZZ – Mr. Peterman says his company still has more than 600 buildings province-wide in the queue, representing well over 100 megawatts of capacity. In Ottawa alone, he says there are more than 60 buildings, representing 20 megawatts of capacity, awaiting approvals.
SKY OZZ is currently focused on retail and industrial buildings, especially those that are flat, low to the ground and located in areas where construction of new tall, sun-blocking towers is unlikely in the coming years.
“We’re not the only people knocking on these companies’ doors. A lot of them are running competitions and there are 12 or 13 firms going in,” says Mr. Peterman.
SolPowered’s Ms. Cyr, meanwhile, says she is receiving “phenomenal” feedback from rural industrial property owners, farmers and municipalities, particularly smaller townships with less bureaucracy to wade through.
She says The Nation Municipality east of Ottawa has committed to installing solar panels atop both the St. Isidore arena and fire hall, representing a combined capacity of 230 kilowatts.
“Municipalities are noticing they have a great opportunity to (raise) revenues (with a) very small investment,” says Ms. Cyr, adding officials are also keen to demonstrate their commitment to the environment.
While Ottawa may lack the volume of large buildings found in cities such as Toronto, Eastern Ontario has a greater photovoltaic potential than other cities with significant solar installations, such as Tokyo and Berlin, says Yves Poissant, a photovoltaic technology specialist with Natural Resources Canada.
Photovoltaic potential is affected by the quantity of cloud cover and daylight as well as temperature, given that solar cells generally perform better under cooler temperatures, he says.
From a business perspective, this means solar installations in Ottawa can generate relatively more power, which means more money for its owner, says Ms. Cyr.
The city is also attracting new companies to the sector. Earlier this month, NorthGrid Solar, a sister company of Dundurn Capital Partners that specializes in engineering, procurement and construction contracting, announced it was opening regional offices in Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie.
“Our pipeline (of projects) through the GTA is full,” says Steve Bellamy, NorthGrid’s vice-president of business development.
“We want to service all of Ontario … Ottawa was a natural fit for us.”
Along with spurring the expansion of existing solar companies, the feed-in tariff program is generating new business for local companies in related sectors. For example, SolPowered has alliances with Ottawa-based M.P. Lundy Construction and engineering giant CIMA, which recently re-established an Ottawa presence.
Some also predict the program will raise the value of participating properties.
“When they sell their building, that rate goes with it. If we’re renting that roof space, that stream of income goes with it to the new owner,” says Mr. Peterman.
“All that real estate is going to be worth more money.”
A FiT-ting incentive?
What is it?: Billed as North America’s first guaranteed renewable energy pricing structure, Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FiT) program offers long-term contracts to green power producers.
What’s it worth?: Rates vary, depending on the size and source of the power. Rooftop solar producers are currently offered between 53.9 and 71.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
What’s new?: Earlier this month, the Ontario Power Authority approved 510 renewable energy projects, mostly solar installations, that were the first contracts awarded to large power generators under the FiT program.
More than 30 projects were approved in Ottawa, with a combined capacity of close to 5,850 kilowatts. The largest local approvals were for national retailers, specifically:
- The Real Canadian Superstore on Innes Road (500 kW)
- The Home Depot on Cyrville Road (450 kW)
- The Home Depot on Frank Nighbor Place (400 kW)
- The Home Depot on Strandherd Drive (300 kW)
Source: Ontario Power Authority