Game Changer: Solar Power Plan Could Transform CBRM

Home with Solar Panels on Roof

According to the 2019 CBRM Viability Study, three of the biggest challenges facing the municipality are:

  • out-migration
  • unemployment
  • low household income (when compared to other regions)

All three of these issues can be addressed with just one solution: Renewable Energy.

Home with Solar Panels on Roof

CBRM has an opportunity to take a global leadership role in the renewable-energy sector.

To do so CBRM must set attainable targets for renewable energy. With vision, planning, and the funds made available by the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada this initiative will benefit CBRM and all of Cape Breton Island for generations to come.

The Argument for Solar PV

Solar panels (photovoltaic, or PV for short) have long been dismissed as too expensive or ineffective at northern latitudes.

The truth: Solar PV panel systems work very well in northern latitudes – Denmark especially is experiencing a solar energy boom: https://um.dk/en/news/newsdisplaypage/?newsid=25147b44-3dce-4647-8788-ad9243c22df2

In terms of cost per kWh (kilowatt hour) Solar PV is the cheapest source of electricity available:

Adapted from U.S. Energy Information Administration data: https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/

Paradoxically, climate change deniers and fossil fuel advocates are quick to raise the alarm over the toxic impact of solar PV panel manufacturing. In reality the environmental impact of manufacturing solar PV panels is dwarfed by the catastrophic side effects of producing energy by burning fossil fuels, flooding valleys for hydro damns, or dealing with spent nuclear waste.

Once manufactured, solar PV panels will remain in service for several decades, after which they are 85% recyclable (and will likely be 99% recyclable by the time today’s panels reach their end-of-life in 25 years).

The Economics of Solar Power in CBRM

Before we go any further, let’s lay out some basic facts:

  • The average residential Nova Scotia Power (NSP) bill in CBRM is $150/month. That’s $1,800 per year.
  • Since 2000, NSP rates have increased an average of 2.5% per year, and there is every indication that electricity rates will continue to rise indefinitely.
  • Solar PV panels, approved by NSP, have an expected service life of 25-years.
  • A solar PV system for a typical 2,000 sq.ft. home in CBRM costs about $20,000 (after provincial rebates)

If you’re like me, you don’t have $20,000 under your mattress so you will probably have to finance the system. Worst-case scenario – if your loan payment is roughly the same as your power bill – the system will be paid off in 12 years, but there are a number of ways you can dramatically reduce the length of the term thereby offsetting your interest costs (see “First Hand Experience” below) .

The graph below compares NSP bill payments to financing a solar PV system. The orange line represents a 12-year loan @ 2.8% APR with a monthly payment of $169. The blue line is your NSP power bill starting at $150/month with a 2.5% increase each year.

Graph: 25 year comparison of paying electrical utility bill versus Solar Panel Loan
Comparison: Nova Scotia Power bill vs. Solar Panel bank loan.

Right away you’ll notice that while the power bill (blue line) increases every year, the loan payments (orange line) stay the same. In fact, around the 4-year mark, monthly payments are surpassed by the projected NSP Bill due to rising rates. The NSP bill continues to increase long after the loan payments have stopped by year-12.

The average household would save $37,916 over 25-years. Even in worst-case scenario – if you had to completely replace your entire $20,000 system at some point – you would still have saved at least $17,000.

And this doesn’t take into account the 4.1% higher resale value for solar powered homes; or that NSP will buy any surplus electricity you produce (call “net metering”).

Transforming CBRM

If enough Cape Breton households make the switch to solar power, the economic benefits will be astounding. But several questions immediately come to mind:

  1. What are the benefits to the region and how do we justify the costs of administering a publicly funded incentives?
  2. What is the cost to CBRM residents (i.e. taxpayers)?
  3. What role can the municipality play?

Benefits

The immediate benefit is employment. Solar PV systems must be installed by qualified, trained electricians. As demand increases, more trades people will be employed. Spin-off business opportunities will also open up for wholesaling, warehousing, and distribution of solar PV components.

Since this is a community-building initiative, it would make sense for the municipality to engage some of the strongest community advocates – Credit Unions – to develop mutually beneficial lending programs geared toward solar PV customers.

The mid-term benefits will be realized as more and more homeowners pay off their solar PV system loans and have more disposable income. This new source of discretionary spending will contribute greatly to the local economy.

The long-term benefit is that CBRM becomes an attractive destination for entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. The population grows, and the community is invigorated; Residents will enjoy a higher standard of living as CBRM becomes a model of success for other municipalities.

If 20% of CBRM homes (1 in 5) make the switch to solar PV electricity, the installations would immediately inject $100-120 million into the local economy. Over the 25-year service life of a typical system, the CBRM economy would see a net gain of $340-million, just from power-bill savings alone.

These are the tangible, calculable numbers. It is impossible to predict the potential benefits from the resulting immigration and investment.

The Cost to Residents

It sounds absurd, ridiculous even, but there is no cost for residents. The whole point is to reduce costs and save money; to free up a part of the homeowners’ income and improve living standards; to stir the local economy and put a dent in poverty.

It’s a simple re-direction of resources; Rather than paying NSP in perpetuity for electricity, we use that money to pay off a relatively short loan.

The Municipality’s Role

The municipality must be the proponent and the facilitator. There are a number of things that can be managed at the municipal level to make this a reality for the residents of CBRM.

In the beginning it will be difficult to get residents on board. Nova Scotia Power has been our sole provider of electricity for over a century – and we’ve never known another way. The municipality will have to promote and market the concept to residents.

Secondly, the municipality could improve buy-in by offering some form of incentive; Perhaps a property tax credit, or subsidize a lower finance rate via Credit Unions. The municipality could also assist installers by negotiating bulk purchases from solar PV hardware providers – thereby further reducing costs for residents.

Third, the municipality could expedite the permit process, and waive permit fees for residential solar PV projects. They could also reach out to other, international municipal bodies for consultation and collaboration – to learn what has/hasn’t worked for others.

First Hand Experience

In March 2020, I made the switch. Solar PV panels on my roof now generate all the electricity my family needs. I rolled the cost of our system into our mortgage renewal – and in 9 years (or less) I will be enjoying free electricity.

If you’re curious about solar PV power for your home, please feel free to contact me. I’ve done a lot of research on the topic and am happy to share my experience with you!

If you think this idea has merit, please SHARE it with your social networks and give me your vote! Thank you!

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