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Solar industry warms to HRM pilot project

Halifax seeks vendors for $5-million program

Business Reporter , December 16, 2011

Business will be heating up for Nova Scotia’s solar industry, now that the Halifax Regional Municipality is seeking vendors for a $5-million pilot project.

Halifax regional council gave staff the go-ahead Tuesday to issue a request for proposals for equipment supply and installation, as well as consulting services, for the municipality’s Solar City project.

“There are lots of people who will be interested in this type of work,” Dan Roscoe, chairman of Solar Nova Scotia’s industry committee, said in an interview Wednesday.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our members.”

Solar hot-water panels will be installed in 1,000 homes starting next spring as part of the project. About 1,600 householders have applied, although not all homes will meet the criteria.

Municipal spokeswoman Katherine VanBuskirk said the request for proposals will be issued to the 13 vendors who qualified after a call for expressions of interest in May.

It will take four or five months to select companies and negotiate contracts, participants were informed in an email notice after Tuesday’s decision.

“There is a desire to most likely partner with two or three companies to implement the initiative,” Phil Townsend, director of planning and infrastructure, said in a Dec. 1 report to the municipality’s environment and sustainability committee.

“This will also create a need to harmonize the contractual agreements (so there is consistency in costs and quality to homeowners regardless of supplier).”

Municipal officials also continue to finalize financing for the project, which was supposed to start this fall.

The pilot depends on a low-interest loan from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which temporarily stopped accepting applications for green energy projects in February. The federation’s Green Municipal Fund began looking at new projects again this month.

Solar panels will cost about $5,000 installed, after various rebates. Homeowners would pay the municipality back through an addition to their property tax bill.

Councillors are expected to give the project final approval and award contracts in March.

Roscoe said the companies that land those contracts will have to expand to do the work.

“This program is equivalent to all the residential solar installed in Canada in 2009, I believe,” said the chief operating officer of Doctor Solar and Scotian WindFields.

“This is a tremendous amount of residential work. There’s no existing company that can take this on without expanding significantly.”

He said the industry group, which has almost 30 members, has been working with municipal staff for more than a year to help develop the program.

Roscoe said he doesn’t think companies will have trouble ramping up for it.

“There’s a really strong knowledge base and a lot of people who have been working in solar for a very long period of time. I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s certainly feasible for the industry.”

The pilot is expected to create 30 to 40 new jobs, the staff report said. It will also save participants $250 to $700 on their heating bill every year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,000 tonnes annually.

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