CBRM Solar Power Plan Could Transform Region and Save Millions

Game Changer: Solar Power Plan Could Transform CBRM

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. CBRM has an opportunity to take a global leadership role in the renewable-energy sector. I propose that CBRM must set attainable targets for renewable energy. The Federal and Provincial governments have made programs and funding available to aid in this transition. With vision and planning, this initiative will benefit all of Cape Breton for generations to come.

The Argument for Solar PV

Solar panels (photovoltaic, or PV for short) have long been dismissed and maligned. Dissenters will claim they don’t work in northern latitudes, or they’re too expensive, or they’re toxic to produce.

The truth is 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/

Regarding toxicity, to put things in perspective, the environmental impact of manufacturing solar PV panels is dwarfed by the catastrophic side effects of fossil fuels, hydro damns, nuclear waste. The panels will be in service for several decades, after which they are 85% recyclable.

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. Increases will almost certainly continue.
  • 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 rebate)

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 and save considerable interest.

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.

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. The NSP bill continues to increase long after the loan payments have stopped. The average household would save $37,916 over 25-years. And this doesn’t take into account the 4.1% higher resale value for solar powered homes, or that NSP will buy any extra electricity you produce (up to a limit).

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?
  2. What is the cost to CBRM residents?
  3. What role does 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 Credit Unions to develop lending programs geared toward solar PV customers.

The mid-term benefits will be seen as more and more homeowners pay off their solar PV system loans and have more disposable income, contributing 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) made 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 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 their costs and save them money; to free up part of their 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 for electricity, residents pay off a 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. 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 a low finance rate with 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.

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!

UPDATE:

Here are some screenshots from the app to show the actual power yield of my system. This is August so far:

 

... And this is from yesterday (Aug.11):

... and the break-even calculations for my system:

Key assumptions:

1. 29 panels at 390kW

2. System cost incl. HST is approx $29,000

3. 12-yr loan at 3.5% (obviously the interest rate is going to have an effect on break-even timing)

4. Projected PV production is based on historical data

Other considerations:

1. NSP will increase rates by 2.5% per year - while the loan payment will not increase

2. Appliances such as HW heaters, refrigerators, etc are becoming more efficient

The Number for 2019:

J F M A M J J A S O N D
Usage kWh 1259 1259 1235 1235 1239 1239 1220 1220 1234 1234 1210 1210
PV kWh 675.00 870.00 1350.00 1390.00 1720.00 1890.00 1700.00 1610.00 1350.00 870.00 675.00 525.00
NSP Cost $ 236.87 236.87 232.59 232.59 233.31 233.31 229.92 229.92 232.42 232.42 228.14 228.14
PV Yeild $ 104.625 134.85 209.25 215.45 266.6 292.95 263.5 249.55 209.25 134.85 104.625 81.375
Loan 240 240 240 240 240 240 240 240 240 240 240 240

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Joe Ward Follow Me
Very interesting idea, Glen. Thank you for taking the time to explain your idea so well. Do you have an energy storage/battery system? What is your heating system, also electric, or an alternative? Did you maintain your electrical connection to NSP as well? Do you run a heat pump as well? If not, could your system support them? After the first read, I'm not convinced that it could have as big an impact economically as you suggest, from the standpoint of how long it would take to get as high a percentage of households as you prescribed installed. Ironically, our high housing tax rates chew up our disposable income at about as much, and often more, than the monthly loan payment to stall this kind of system. In addition to low median household incomes and high unemployment, we have (as would be expected) very high insolvency and bankruptcy (highest in Canada) that would make financing even harder to achieve. Brainstorming: NS Power finances heat pumps. I wonder if there is a way to actually bring them into the mix. However, a high conversation rate would certainly have an impact. I do agree that it would need to be—at minimum—facilitated, and incentivized. One thing that might be helpful is the potential for the cost of solar systems to continue dropping in price. Is there any indication that within the next 5 years those costs might plunge and make the ROI even more attractive to our region?
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
Hi Joe. Thanks for digging deeper into this - all good questions. So, first, there is no battery/storage. The technique is called "net metering". Think of it this way ... while sun is shining, the panels produce enough power for everything in my house many times over. The extra power goes back onto the grid and NSP gives me a credit for this. At night, and on dark days, I draw power from the grid. The credit I accumulate when the sun is shining is enough to offset my usage from the grid. The right solar PV system will be designed to slightly "overproduce", so if you're energy conscious you might build up enough of credit so that NSP has to cust you a cheq; but the goal is to just break even. We still have oil/hot water heat. But as everyone with oil/hot water knows all to well, the NSP bill is still high (and always climbing). We remain connected to the grid (as explained above). We don't have a heat pump. That would increase our power consumption and (I'm guessing here) would probably increase our power demands and require a slight larger solar array. I think this could be especially important for low income families. I would like to CBRM Housing Authority start installing soalar PV to help low income families by reducing/eliminating NSP bills. Regarding high insolvency, to be blunt, this plan is not for everyone. But if the municipality can get behind it and we can convert even 10% of homes in CBRM - that would put un the right path. I've been watching the cost of solar for about 10 years. It will likely continue to fall - becoming even more affordable in the future - but it's already the cheapest way to produce electricity. Thanks Joe!
Joe Ward Follow Me
Awesome, Glen. I love to see exploration into these kinds of ideas. I know that Elon Musk had introduced a battery storage solution; however, with "net metering", you may already have an optimal set-up. Are you already breaking even with your credits covering your monthly NSP account fee plus consumption? Is there any monitoring device that comes with the system that allows you to see the current power generation and track the net metering? I think a move toward getting this technology included in all new government housing builds would be a very interesting initiative. You installed your system in March 2020. What are your expectations for the winter months? Are the panels prone to snow cover, or they maintain a temperature that makes it difficult to accumulate, other?
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
Batteries would be great - but they have three drawbacks. 1) Cost. Batteries would push the price of a system beyond the budget for most people - myself included. 2) Lifespan. The panels have a 25-year+ service life, but today's batteries wouldn't last more than 10-12 years - pushing the cost up even further. 3) Community. If I capture and store 100% of the power I produce, none goes onto the grid. I like the idea that my electricity is reducing my neighbours' carbon footprint. It's too early to tell if I'm breaking even yet, but I feel reassured by all the vetting involved in the system design. The system has to be approved by Efficiency Nova Scotia's engineering department. It's a very detailed process that considers a good number of factors. They come up with the specifications for a system that will exceed your historical usage by 10%. That 10% wiggle room is important because there's no guarantee that we'll get x-number of sunny days per year. I can monitor the system on my phone. The app shows me a real-time output of each panel and the whole system. It also stores the history, and alerts me if there is a fault. The panels will get snow on them, but my roof is south facing with a steep pitch. Wade McNeil, the installer, has done about 50 of these systems so far and says the snow shouldn't accumulate. If we have an historic snowfall I might have to use a show rake - but that's unlikely ... hopefully. It's also reassuring that northern Europe (especially Denmark) is a huge solar PV market - where they have less sunshine and more snow than us.
Alex Libbus Follow Me
Hi. Not a "Dessenter" - don't know why people would be "against" solar power, but curious about the practicality of solar power for CBRMers. This system has a major advantage of not using batteries which would make up a high part of the expense of operating a solar electricity system so probably practical. Must be tied to the electricity grid of course.The question is how practical? I feel there's a lot of Ifs and Buts and other considerations to having a practical solar system, but a major one is of course how much energy (=$$) can be saved. Data provided from an an actual working system would be great. My question is "how much energy in practice does your solar electricity system produce" ? Per day would be great. On a sunny day, an overcast day, and a cloudy day would be very valuable information. That's your house in the picture? Is it 2000SQFT as used in your analysis? Was your cost $20000 for this set-up? What would be the total rated wattage of the panels? 10000 watts? How much electricity (kilowatthours) did the panels produce in say the month of June. How much energy did they produce in July - two sunny months. I would be curious how much they produce in all months of course especially the winter months but you wouldn't have that data yet. Would love to know how much energy can actually (measured) be offset in practice with this system. If one knows how much energy they can typically produce/offset in practice (for this system) for any given month, it is easy to calculate the money they can potentially save for a year. Whatever electricity costs these days - 15 cents per kWh times the kWh produced for the time period (per day/ per month etc..) I understand there is more to this in your idea of creating jobs, reducing out-migration, income levels etc..
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
Hi Alex. I didn't want to overwhelm people with a lot of bafflegab so I trimmed the numbers/math. But since you asked ... Yes, that's my house (1,800 sqft). We have two teenagers at home so we use A LOT of power; laundry, showers, electronics, pool pump, ceiling fans, and we're also on a well so there's that pump too! Depending on the time of year, we use between 25-40kwh per day. But in 3-5 years (when we become "empty nesters") that will drop below 20-30kwh per day - and that "forecasting" is an important part of the overall calculation. The system we installed was designed to exceed our current annual needs by about 5%. It will far exceed our needs in few years - but if we sell the house to family of four, they system has to be able to support them (HUGE selling feature - imaging buying a home that has free electricity!). So far, this month, we're producing between 80-100kw per day (I'll share the screen shots from my app later) - so we're building up a credit, which we will need when the days get really short. This is not a practical solution for every home. But it is practical for more homes than most people realize. Efficiency NS has to examine your power bill so they can determine the appropriate size of the system based on your past consumption. It costs nothing to take the first steps and have homes evaluated. But will cost CBRM billions to keep the entire municipality tethered to a multinational, for profit energy conglomerate.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Sounds very exciting. You've definitely ignited my interest as well!
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
Hi Alex. I posted some pics from the app to show the actual power, day by day, for August (at the bottom of the article). In my previous comment I said we were at 80-100kw - but that was for a few weeks back in July. With the days already getting shorter were hovering in the 60-70kw range. Still, that's double what we're consuming - with the surplus going back on the grid and providing us with a credit.
Alex Libbus Follow Me
Sorry for not replying to your post sooner - busy time of year. So to know the benefit of the system one needs to know the cost. Was it $20,000 in your case? Before or after taxes? The graphs you provided were great. In sunny times you are producing about 60-70 kwh per day. I would love to have the daily kWh numbers for a whole year. I hope you are tracking it. For a simple 10 year break even calculation one would need to save $20000 / 10yr / 365 days/year = $5.50 per day. which at 15 cents per kWh is $5.50 / .15 $/kWh = 36.7 kwh per day average. Don't quote me on this. For 15 year break even the system would need to produce 24kwh per day average. Again don't quote me on this. A few more questions: 1) Do you know the power rating of each of the panels on your roof? Not important to the cost - benefit analysis - I would just like to understand how they are connected. 300 Watts each? If not no problem. 2) Is your power bill monthly or bimonthly? and if monthly is it Calendar month? Again more of a curiosity than anything. Lastly, not a question but I wonder how do the solar panels wear out or do they? If there is a 25 year life expectancy then what happens over time to end their life? - do they produce less and less electricity - if so by how much over time. I may look into that. Obviously replacing worn out roofing shingles would be complicated by having solar panels on top of them. Ideally they would be replaced at the same time. Roof leaks would be expensive to repair of course so hopefully their system is reliably waterproof.
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
Hi Alex. I included the calculations at the bottom of the post. 1) In 2019 my usage average $232/month (including HST and connection fee) 2) I need 29x 390kW panels to meet demand. 3) Total system cost after HST, $29,000 3.1) A 12-yr loan at 3.5% will have a monthly pmt of $240 (only $8 more than the NSP bill) Other points: A). Yes, a new(er) roof would be ideal. B). The Solar panels gradually become less productive over time. By 25 years they are only 80% efficient. C). Again -I can't stress this enough - Solar PV is not a viable solution for everybody. You have to have to consider other things. For us, we know we will be empty-nesters in a few short years and our usage will drop. Point is - solar PV pays off OVER TIME. If you are a younger person with a young family - it's a smart choice. For a senior - probably not.
Alex Libbus Follow Me
Thank you. This is all good information people can use for future decision making.
Greg Milley Follow Me
Glen Murrant, what company installed your system and why did you pick them, was there any other up front costs involved? i live in a company house in New Aberdeen GB. so i could have panels on both sides of my roof.
Glen Murrant My Post Follow Me
I got quotes and discussed the project with three companies. I won't name the others, but I chose Wade McNeil Electric because they (he) was the most professional. The others took a long time to get back to me and didn't communicate very well. I had $0 in upfront costs - everything was financed and rolled into my mortgage renewal. As for your roof - I can't comment - best to leave that up to the professionals. They'll do an assessment and determine the system specs.
Joe Ward Follow Me
Hi Glen. Hope all is well. Would love to hear an update with your experience. No issues or concerns? No repair or technical issues? Still good value return? I’ve been curious for awhile, but the recent news sparked my interest again. I’d like to go solar, but will watch closely to see if NSPower is permitted to steal back the value of our green energy investments.

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