Provincial government to review future of net metering program over coming weeks

The future of the now-stalled net metering program will be conducted in a review over the next couple weeks, according to an announcement on Monday from Minister responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan.

SaskPower will be evaluating how to move forward with the program after reaching their cap of 16 megawatts last week, over two years ahead of their projected deadline.

Net metering was brought back last November with the Crown corporation taking in applications until the program reached a cap of either 16 megawatts or November 30th, 2021 – whichever came first.

But now the suspension of the program puts the installation of solar panels on homes and businesses at a standstill, which has left the public displeased after they were hoping to receive credits for surplus power.

After complaints from residents and business owners, Duncan explained how they want to run the evaluation of the program’s future over the coming weeks, not months. The government wants to ensure it can continue moving forward with a rooftop solar initiative, however there are no details on what it will look like.

“The rebates, the credits, the things we made the changes to last year, the sizes of the projects we allow, we’re going to be looking at all those things,” said Duncan.

Frustration has grown over the last few days since the announcement from the government. Even a group of protesters gathered over the weekend to demonstrate their disappointment towards the government’s decision.

Duncan said they have seen “exponential growth” towards interest in the program since it was re-established late last year. In terms of applications, he mentioned how they have done over the last 10 months that would have taken a number of years.

Initially, they projected the 16-megawatt cap would be reached in November or December, but that deadline kept getting pushed sooner.

“Even last week, SaskPower was forecasting that the cap would be hit Friday of last week. But on Tuesday night, we got the call saying we’re at the 16 megawatts already.”

Duncan’s confident there will be a program that will allow for rooftop solar in the province, yet he won’t know the level of the incentives until the options have been laid out following the review.

‘Amateur hour at the Legislature’

Sask. NDP’s Trent Wotherspoon feels Monday’s update from the government on the net metering program is “not much of an announcement”, describing it as “amateur hour at the Legislature”.

He said the abrupt stoppage of the program is clear incompetence from Minister Duncan.

“The fact he couldn’t reverse the damaging decision that was brought to the industry with one day’s notice last week is really baffling and really disappointing,” he said.

The Regina Rosemont MLA is worried about the future of investments into skilled labour and partnerships made around the province from the program and feels they have been put at risk.

After hearing concerns from the public regarding the government’s decision, he believes it needs to be reversed. “The companies and the applicants have been blindsided. . . they’re questioning what their livelihoods are going to look like.”

He added the Sask. Party is failing an industry that is growing, and a power source which is affordable, sustainable, creates jobs and reduces emissions.

Industry Reaction

The solar industry is not happy with how SaskPower is handling the net metering program. Prairie Sun Solar is a solar installation company and it says only getting a one day notice that the program is ending is ridiculous and unacceptable.

Co-owner Brenden Owens says it is good to hear that they will be talking over the next few weeks about how to bring back the program, but giving the time line of weeks and not months doesn’t really help. “It makes it difficult for us as business owners when you can’t install systems, we can’t offer install systems for customers. With the break, all it does is break more trust with our customers.”

Owens says it is good that SaskPower is reviewing the program, but “it still doesn’t give us any certainty, it doesn’t let us know what the new program will be. that’s the part that’s difficult, if they roll out with another program that doesn’t fit the market and no one wants to install systems because the program is rushed or not properly thought out, then it’s no good anyways.”

He adds that this halt has broken the trust between the business and customer. “We had a customer just come in today, that we obviously refunded costs for a deposit, because they basically said word-for-word, we no longer trust SaskPower and the solar industry because of this, what’s to say that they don’t cut us off if we get approved.”

“A comment like that is hard for us to give them an answer.”

Owens hopes a solar industry rep will be involved in the review process to make sure any program going forward is good for all.

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