Canmore Solar Initiative: bringing renewable energy to Alberta’s Bow Valley
Mountains, glacier-fed lakes, wildlife … and solar panels?
Solar panels have been popping up on many Canmore homes over the last few years, thanks in part to Canmore’s Solar Incentive Program.
“This is something tangible that homeowners can do,” said Lori Rissling Wynn, sustainability coordinator for the Town of Canmore. “A lot of times we feel we don’t have a lot of control in these choices, but a person absolutely does.”
Now in its fifth year, the program provides an opportunity for people in the community to invest in renewable energy by offering a financial incentive to residents and businesses to help offset the cost of purchasing and installing a solar system.
There were 15 solar incentives of $1,000 available in 2019, and recipients – chosen by a lottery – were notified in March. Funds for the program are identified annually in the town’s operating budget for “greenhouse gas mitigation activities.”
Rissling Wynn said the program is often oversubscribed. This year, 25 people submitted applications.
“It demonstrates the appetite the community has for the program,” said Rissling Wynn, who is responsible for administering the program, processing applications, managing the lottery and corresponding with successful recipients. “People are interested in contributing to the energy transition.”
For many individuals though, the upfront capital is one of the major barriers to solar installation; the Canmore Solar Initiative is meant to help reduce that barrier.
Even with the financial incentive, Rissling Wynn said they recognize a solar panel installation is a big economic decision, and families need to decide whether a solar system is the right fit for their home. But it’s an over-simplification to say that a solar panel system is too expensive as an investment for most homes.
“If you look at a solar panel system as an appliance that you are putting on your home, what other appliance pays you back? Eventually this will be paying you back dividends.”
Depending on the size of the system, it takes eight to 10 years to completely recover the capital cost, but most get at least a portion of their bills covered within the first year.
Moreover, installing a solar panel system on their home tends to have ripple effect — residents become increasing mindful about the amount of energy they use on a daily basis, like turning off lights and running the dishwasher during the day when the panels are generating power. By monitoring energy production versus household consumption, families can reduce energy costs by consuming power when the solar installation is producing energy.
The solar energy investment doesn’t just benefit the homeowner. According to Rissling Wynn, the number of solar installers working in the valley has tripled since the initiative first started in Canmore, spurring the green economy and increasing employment opportunities.
Further, the increase in solar installations around town have helped to debunk the myth that solar energy was not possible in the valley.
A report, commissioned by the Town of Canmore to evaluate the solar potential of the community, found that rooftop geometry and design has significantly more impact on solar potential than mountain shading and location within the valley. This bodes well for new residential developments in the community.
It’s not just residents and local businesses looking for opportunities to offset their energy usage.
“It’s important that we aren’t just telling people to do this,” said Rissling Wynn. “We are doing it ourselves, too,”
Within the next two years, Canmore will add five new solar panel installations to their municipal buildings, on top of the systems currently in operation, which include the solar photovoltaic systems installed on the roofs of the Civic Centre and Waste Management Centre. The town is also looking for opportunities for ground-mounted solar to help offset corporate energy usage.
“We are recognizing that the grid needs to be maintained, and renewable energy needs to be a part of that mix,” said Rissling Wynn.