solar panels

Solar panels are becoming a more common sight in eastern PEI as potential savings, climate change and government rebates encourage more to give it a try.

Trisha Harris of Georgetown says she and her husband Gary have been able to offset all energy usage charges since installing 21 solar panels on their roof last March. The panels have generated enough credit through the spring, summer and fall to offset everything except Maritime Electric’s mandatory monthly service charge.

“We have a good roof for solar, so we’re definitely in an ideal situation. What I’m spending on my solar system (about $130 a month) is less than I would have been spending on my electric bill.”

The Harris’s home was designed with an eventual solar setup in mind, with triple-pane glass in the windows and spray foam insulation. When they first explored solar years ago it was too expensive, but provincial and federal rebates have changed that.

“We’re very happy with it - no complaints at all,” Ms Harris said. This time of year is not as good for solar due to the shorter days, but that will change closer to spring.

Provincial rebates have a maximum of $10,000 per home, with $1,000 per kilowatt being covered, up to 40% of installation costs. PEI residents can also get up to $5,000 from the federal government through its Greener Homes Energy Grant.

Ms Harris thinks more Islanders should take advantage of the double-rebate opportunity.

“To be honest, it leaves more money in our pockets every month. It’s actually a great (option) for Islanders who are financially tight,” she said. “The sun shines, why not use it?”

In Roseneath, Phil and Rhonda Bulpitt had a ground-mounted array of 32 solar panels installed in October 2020. Mr Bulpitt said a ground mount is more expensive, but avoids having to take the panels down in the event a roof replacement is needed down the road.

Ground-mounted panels are also adjustable, which means the Bulpitts can put them at a lower angle in the winter to catch the sun, and higher in the summer. Their panels are bi-facial, meaning they capture solar energy on both sides - including sun reflected off the snow in the winter.

The array has produced almost 18,000 kilowatts in a year, more than the 15,000 which was projected at the time. In the past year, the savings have been in the range of $2,000 to $2,500. Mr Bulpitt said the system is designed to offset about 46% of their energy costs. The solar electricity also runs their farm.

The Bulpitts are seeking funding to get another 32-panel installation that would offset nearly 100% of the energy bills. Mr Bulpitt’s father next door has also been approved for rebates to install 32 of his own.

The federal rebate was not available when the couple had their ground mount installed but they will seek it for the second array.

“I’m pretty happy with it so far and hoping to get more to offset all my electricity,” Mr Bulpitt said. They used to go through about $1,000 a month of oil in the winter, but now use geothermal energy. At most, they might have a bill for about $700 for all their electricity, heat and hot water for the property in winter.

The Bulpitts took advantage of 0% financing to pay a monthly fee for the first 12 or 13 years. Their panels have a 30-year warranty so there will be many years of savings once the panels pay themselves off.

“I made enough this year to pay for all my costs of owning it and a little bit extra,” Mr Bulpitt said. “After that 12 years it’ll all be money in my pocket.”

Sunly, a Polaron dealer, has installed more than 130 solar panel arrays in eastern PEI. Tyson Nicholson, one of the owners, said energy savings depend on usage, space available for solar and other factors, but the average predicted energy savings for Island customers is 76%. They have completed more than 600 installations across the Island.

Mr Nicholson said many are looking for a 100% offset and some, like the Harrises, are able to achieve that. But for many it makes more financial sense to shoot a little lower.

Roof size is an important factor and a south-facing array generally captures the most sun. The company uses software with decades of weather information to help estimate production.

Mr Nicholson said the provincial rebates generally provide a payback period of nine to 11 years and the federal rebate can reduce that by two or three.

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