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Heather Mackenzie | CBC News

Alberta’s Solar Surge Hits a Snag: The FortisAlberta Bottleneck

Despite Albertan’s booming interest in adopting solar energy, FortisAlberta's snail-paced approval process is casting a long shadow over homeowners' green dreams

FortisAlberta owns 60 percent of the province’s electricity distribution network, mostly in rural areas outside of Edmonton and Calgary.

Yet the company, which earned $381 million in the last three months of 2023, is dragging its heels on small solar system approvals. 

FortisAlberta takes up to two months to approve new solar systems for homes. Following approval, it takes an additional two months before they install bidirectional meters, which measure the energy customers consume and the surplus they generate back into the electrical grid.  

Albertans Want Solar

Solar-powered homes are booming in Alberta thanks to municipal, provincial and federal government grants and zero-interest loans

The number of home-based micro-generation systems has more than doubled in two years.

In January 2022, there were 7,744.

According to the non-profit association Solar Alberta, we now have 16,464 micro—generation systems in Alberta capable of producing more than 215,000 kilowatts of electricity.

That’s pretty awesome!

Wait Time Complaints

Solar Alberta, a non-profit association, is getting a flood of complaints about FortisAlberta’s ridiculously long approval times for new solar systems.

The Association’s mission is “to accelerate Alberta’s transition to a just and sustainable energy future …”

Many Albertans want to switch to clean solar energy and take advantage of current government grants, but FortisAlberta’s glacially slow approval process is frustrating many.

Property owners must submit applications and required permits for solar systems to their electricity distributors, proving that their proposed systems will follow the rules.

The Alberta Micro-Generation Regulation states that, among other rules, all micro-generation systems must:

  • use only renewable or alternative energy.
  • meet all or a portion of the customer’s electricity needs.
  • be sized to the customer’s anticipated electricity load. 
  • be located on the customer’s site, or a site leased or owned by the customer and close to their home.

These are all easy requirements to meet; the approval delay is the problem, not the application process.

If you pay your power bill to FortisAlberta and want to install solar, get comfortable and be prepared to wait after sending in your application.

Installation companies, homeowners and businesses are frustrated by these time, money and energy-wasting delays.

It’s especially maddening given that EPCOR, which owns the grid in Edmonton, is turning micro-generation applications around in 10 days!

We might forgive FortisAlberta if all electricity distributors took this long, but EPCOR’s record shows us that solar approval can be done in a timely manner.

Not Just An Isolated Problem

Heather MacKenzie, Executive Director of Solar Alberta, wrote a letter to FortisAlberta about the issue in early February.

“It’s not fair to those Albertans for them to be receiving inadequate connectivity to the grid compared to other micro-generators in other areas,” MacKenzie told CBC News.

For example, Pincher Creek resident David Desabrais submitted his application to FortisAlberta last October.

He got his approval in mid-February – four months later.

Tom Langford, of Red Deer County, waited more than two months last year to get his approval.

“If we’re supposed to be trying to go greener, this is slowing everybody down,”  Langford said.  

Contractors Are Crying Foul

Businesses that install solar systems are also running short on patience.

Bill Lungle proudly posted his first net zero day on the Alberta Solar Facebook Group | Bill Lungle | Facebook

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” said Jordan Forsythe, president of Boreal Connected Homes,

Jared MacGowan, head of business development for Calgary’s Rocky Mountain Solar Co., said long delays equal planning nightmares and customer frustration, as well as adding to homeowner costs.

“Customers probably are seeing a little bit of a higher price because we’re guarding against the price of materials potentially increasing over the next five to six months versus being able to be more aggressive if we could get on site within a month or two,” MacGowan said.

According to the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates electric, gas, water and renewable power generation, utility companies aren’t required to process applications in a given amount of time.

Maybe they should be.

Mike Thomas, posting on the Solar Alberta Group Facebook Page, wrote:

“We just had one meter installed 6.5 months after application. They’re criminally incompetent.”

FortisAlbertas Response?

FortisAlberta said it’s working on the delays and has hired more people to tackle the backlog.

“Sixty days is not acceptable to anyone, and so we recognize that, and we fully acknowledge that that is a pain point for our customers, especially when they’re thinking about affordability and really trying to manage what their bills look like,” said Jennifer MacGowan, the company’s director of stakeholder engagement.

MacGowan stated that the company has decreased wait times by ten days since the beginning of the year and hopes to get wait times down by another ten days by the end of March. 

FortisAlberta is a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. 

In 2023, the company earned $12 billion, and CEO David Hutchens took home $11.56 million in salary and bonuses.

We’re not sure if his solar application has been approved yet 😉  

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