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Discussion Starter #1
There's been a lot of discussion going on about the spiraling cost of electricity in Ontario, now and projected. I've already done almost everything I am willing to do on the consumption side and it looks like the bills are going to just keep going up. Although we Ontarians are using less power than ever (the IESO website http://www.theimo.com/imoweb/marketdata/marketSummary.asp says we keep setting monthly record lows) we just got hit with an increase at the beginning of May, we're about to be hit with another increase when the HST starts at the beginning of July and many are already seeing higher bills due to time-of-use pricing (which the government has finally admitted was designed to modify your behaviour and not to save you any money - or even be particularly cost-neutral).

So I've decided to do something about it on the generation side.

Part of the excuse for the May price hike was something called a Green Energy charge. This really stems from the Green Energy Act that was passed last fall and all those huge wind and solar farm contracts the government has been handing out.

But how can the little guy get in on it?

Well, in addition to creating the feed-in tariff (FIT) for the big guys, the Green Energy Act also directed the creation of a microFIT (http://microfit.powerauthority.on.ca/) program so that individuals could participate with installations generating 10kW or less.

So I started investigating how I could use the program to offset the cost of consumption with the revenue of generation.

Traditionally, there was not much you could do that ever had a hope of breaking even. However, under this program there are two options available to the homeowner: wind and solar. Wind is really a non-starter for most because, while its got a lower captial cost, you'll almost never be able to do that in a residential neighbourhood (most of your neighbours will hate you) and currently they pay only 13.5 cents/kWh. Solar, which was always non-economic with its large capital cost, has been made atttractive because they are paying 80.2 cents/kWh - this was designed to make a reasonable return on investment.

So I started looking into solar a little deeper...
 

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Continued...

So I started off doing the traditional internet search (what did we do before the internet?). There are a large, and growing, number of installers of grid-tied solar systems. Most of them, if they are worth their salt, are listed in the CanSIA (Canadian Solar Industries Association) membership directory http://www.cansia.ca/membership/member-directory however, I found my contractor before looking there.

Most contractor/installers seem to have sprung up since this program or have only been doing this as a side-line and few post prices so that you can compare before locking yourself into getting an 'assessment'. The one I found is


  1. relatively local (their admin person used to work at the same place I work, so there is an immediate trust relationship),
  2. has been doing this, and only this, for a while,
  3. posts prices and
  4. is associated with an electrical contractor so its a one-stop shop.

After doing a lot more surfing, determining I have an ideal situation (large, unshaded, south-facing sloped roof) and running all the kWh production calculators from http://www.pvwatts.org/ and Natural Resources Canada (http://canmetenergy-canmetenergie.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/eng/renewables/standalone_pv.html even to the extent of downloading and running the RETScreen application) I decided they had the best service and prices and arranged for a site evaluation.

Now here's another factor that might not be the same for everyone... taxes. As far as property taxes, MPAC has made a ruling that electrical generation equipment is not assessable so my property taxes won't go up. What about income taxes? Since this is now a business relationship with the OPA, I will be receiving business income that will be reported and would be taxed in my highest marginal bracket. Fortunately, the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) applies and will compensate totally for the income until its fully depreciated - and then I'll be retired and in a much lower tax bracket.

I also created and submitted an application at the microFIT site referenced in the previous post. This was, coincidentally submitted on the day before Earth Day (April 21).

One of the additional requirements is, naturally, that all legal procedures be followed including building permits, local hydro company procedures and inspections.

Now the money starts getting spent... The site eval is $250+tax (but counts toward the system if you buy from them - this is probably a pretty standard condition).

I also contacted my township building department to find that a permit is required (not all jurisdictions require this) and that, as an Ontario Building Code 'Designated Structure', this will cost $275 plus an engineering evaluation is required to make sure your roof isn't going to collapse.

So the site eval determined I could fit a 3.9kWh (AC nameplate) system on my garage roof (4140kW DC, 18 230W panels) with a 4kW inverter inside the garage. Again, plugging in the numbers and the average hours of sunshine for southern Ontario shows that the system will generate over $4300 of electricity a year - MORE THAN OFFSETTING MY ENTIRE ELECTRIC BILL (including heat)! They also located an engineer who is making a bit of a specialty of doing these evaluations. The engineering eval is not cheap: $1000 (and that's with saving $500 by drafting the plans myself).
 

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Discussion Starter #3
And continued again...

So the quote's come in: $22,811.75 plus taxes installed, inspected and commissioned (plus another $275 for the connection). Plugging that and the other fees into the RETScreen calculator still comes out to an 18% internal rate of return, a 6.3 year simple payback and 5.7 year equity payback, that's pretty darned good. Considering that I've lost money on an equivalent value equities investment made 5 years ago, I think we're a go. Sell that and sleep better at night.

Oh-oh... The Greek crisis hits, Europe's on the brink and everyone's flocking back to the US dollar... the Canuck buck drops and the panels are about to go up $45 per each. Whew... got in on a last order at the 'near-parity' price.

Well to bring you up to date (June 2), I just got back from dropping off my building permit application and went to check the status of my microFit application on the website. Uh-oh... there's now a notice that the response has been so overwhelming that unless your application was submitted before the end of March, it would likely be August or September before you'd get approved. Major bummer! However, logged into my account and its my lucky day... not even August and I've been approved - time to go buy lottery tickets!

So things are marching ahead great guns now... the panels might be in this week, the building permit and hydro connection have been applied for and the contract's been signed and first payment made. Might be up and running by the solstice!

I'll keep blogging here and I'll answer questions. I don't consider myself an expert by any means or a 'greenie' either - just someone how can recognize an opportunity and can afford to hold out a bucket to catch the money falling from the sky. Just be gentle if you find I didn't get the best deal possible.
 

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Wow, great stuff. Your posts had me doing some searching as well. I'll stay tuned!
 

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I find it hard to believe that with the number of applications that have been submitted and the number of members (quite a number who must also be geeks) on this forum that I'm the first one to do this.

I guess someone's got to be first but maybe I'm just the first to spout off about it.

P.S. The inverter that is going to be used (Solectria) can be set up, with an optional module (for which $500 is the best price I can find), to provide real-time and historical production graphs - but only on the manufacturer's website. So I've got one of those Linux plug computers on order and will log the inverter data myself since its just RS-232 (and I program for a living).

P.P.S. Another good resource is http://www.switchkingston.ca/. Its by a group of real enthusiastic people and more specific to the Kingston area. It doesn't have a forum but there is one at http://www.wind-sun.com/ForumVB/... while that's based in Arizona, it sometimes talks about microFIT, however I'm only going to be posting here.
 

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I had actually gone over a lot of information at the start of the year when the ecoAction rebates were still in play but never made a move or really looked into the process of implementing the system, just the cost of equipment. This is all really good information. Out of curiousity, would you be able to list all the actual equipment and rough pricing? Also, are you simply setting it up as a PV solar system or do you plan on doing or have looked at anything else such as water heating?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I haven't got an itemized breakdown of the components but the total cost of the hardware (before tax) is $18,326. The largest single item will be the Solectria PVI-4000 inverter which is listed at $2899 on one Canadian site. Most of the rest will be 18 SolarWorld SW230 panels. The mounting and racking will be included in there and I'm not sure if the miscellaneous wiring and replacing the meter base to mount both meters is also included in that or the 'Electrical' line item which is priced separately. If you account for about $1000 for the mounts and racks the panels would seem to be about $800 each which is at least as good as any online price I've seen (before shipping - you can buy a pallet of 40 for $US27,880 - just have to get 'em here!).

I don't think ecoEnergy ever had anything for solar photovoltaic - only for solar hot water. A good chunk of our hot water comes from the superheat option on our geoexchange heat pump and the rest comes from a brand new gas-fired heater so a solar water heater system would never pay back. There were incentives and sales tax rebates for solar PV but those have all expired now.

One reason to install the system this year is that for 2010-only the 'domestic content' requirement is 40%... the complete electrical/labour, purchased in Ontario mounting and racking and 'made in Ontario' inverter currently meets that. For systems that go active after Jan 1, 2011 the content requirement goes up to 60% which means at least the panels will have to be assembled in Ontario (the complete cells could still be foreign but they would have to be connected in Ontario - you get further bonus points for various degrees of domestic cell manufacture).
 

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Your post is so timely.

SlimDiesel,

Your post is so timely. I have been googling for information for a while now and in one post, you have answered so many questions. I am surprised there isn't a forum on MicroFIT for people to share information.

If you don't mind, here are a few questions.
- How were you able to find if a component was made in Ontario and how can you show that to the inspector? For example, I could buy Canadian-Solar (headquarters in Kitchener) PV panels in the states for much less than in Canada but how could I prove they were made in Ontario? Is there a list of equipment that qualify for domestic content?

- How did you find the engineer for the evaluation? I have done drafting courses many years ago but I have never seen an engineering evaluation drafting plan. Would you mind attaching a copy of your drafting plan so that we can see what's expected?

If anyone reading this thread already has a MicroFIT system, I read labelling the equipment appears to be very important to pass the electrical inspection. Can you post pictures of your setup with the labels?

Thanks
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I'm leaving the navigation and proof to the OPA of the domestic content rules up to the installer - that's one of the services they provide by contract. I assume they will be collecting a list of suppliers and certifications to be submitted with the commissioning report in order that the final contract can be issued (all I have now is commitment to issue a contract if the installed system meets all the rules).

The current domestic content rules are:


  1. Silicon that has been used as input to solar photovoltaic cells manufactured in an Ontario refinery. 10%
  2. Silicon ingots and wafer, where silicon ingots have been cast in Ontario and wafers have been cut from the casting by a saw in Ontario. 12%
  3. The crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic cells, where their active photovoltaic layer(s) have been formed in Ontario. 10%
  4. Solar photovoltaic modules (i.e. panels), where the electrical connections between the solar cells have been made in Ontario, and the solar photovoltaic module materials have been encapsulated in Ontario 13%
  5. Inverter, where the assembly, final wiring and testing has been done in Ontario. 9%
  6. Mounting systems, where the structural components of the fixed or moving mounting systems, have been entirely machined or formed or cast in Ontario. The metal for the structural components may not have been pre-machined outside Ontario other than peeling/roughing of the part for quality control purposes when it left the smelter or forge. The machining and assembly of the mounting system must entirely take place in Ontario (i.e. bending, welding, piercing, and bolting). 9%
  7. Wiring and electrical hardware that is not part of other designated activities (i.e., items 1, 2, 3, and 5 of this table), sourced from an Ontario supplier. 10%
  8. All on- and off-site labour and services. For greater certainty, this designated activity shall apply in respect of all contract facilities. 27%

Since they are both the installer and electrical contractor, that will score the 37% in line items 7 and 8. The inverter they will be using puts it over the current limit by being 'final assembled' in Ontario although the components come from a Massachusetts company. Additional bits and bobs of the mounting and racking systems may come from Ontario but it would not be necessary to track that this year, although next year that won't add enough by itself... at least the panel assembly will also have to be done in Ontario.

I've searched the microFIT program website and can't find any list of approved domestic content suppliers or products. It would probably be changing so fast that it would not be possible to keep up to date and I'm sure the government doesn't want to be seen as endorsing or excluding anything just because it is, isn't or just hasn't yet made it onto the list. Its an as-built thing and its up to the installer to prove.

While the name 'Canadian Solar' sounds good, their website doesn't indicate that anything is made outside of China. Maybe the increase in the domestic content rules for 2011, which as I've said before will force at least the assembly of the cells into the panel, will cause them to set up a plant in Ontario to do that. At least I know that my panels will be completely made in the U.S. and have the highest test performance of anything out there.

The system isn't installed yet so I can't provide pictures but I will as soon as possible.

As far as the engineering analysis, that's only going to be necessary if your municipality, like mine, takes a hard-nosed approach to building permits and calls this an OBC 'designated structure' which, technically it is. Since this company has done this before, they had worked with an engineer before in the Chatham area. For my job, they located someone who does this type of work from Ingersoll. I'm sure you could locate one through the Ontario Professional Engineer society http://www.peo.on.ca/.

When I started working with him, he said he would like to see any existing plans but since the previous owner/builder didn't leave anything that detailed, I drew up the following in Visio and thus saved myself the $500+ that the engineer would have charged to do them himself.


 

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Great post. Thanks for creating this thread.

I will be doing a reno in a few years, and have it tucked in the back of my mind to try and incorporate as much green construction/renovation into the project as I can afford at that time, assuming the microFIT program is still in place.

I understand there a couple of ways of tying back into the grid. Out of curiosity, will your generation meter be tied to the grid upstream or downstream of your household meter? I'm just trying to visualize the electrical path.

I am looking forward to following your progress intently!!

Best of luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
In all cases, the output of the microFIT system goes through a 'generation' meter. This reads the kWh produced and is what you get paid for. The initial designs then specified three ways to connect the output of that meter:


  1. on your household side of your 'load' meter. This was called a series connection and is essentially the old 'net-metering' arrangement. This is no longer permitted due to a ruling by Measurement Canada (probably due to the difficulty of determining your real consumption that you should be billed for by adding back in an unknown quantity of your own generation that you consumed).
  2. on the 'drop' side of the load meter. This is called an indirect parallel connection and is the way virtually all home add-on systems will be connected because it shares your grid drop lines and doesn't depend on your load meter.
  3. directly to the grid at the street. This would only be used at sites with no preexisting service and is essentially the same as getting a drop installed for a new house, which is pretty expensive and might require its own transformer.
So... mine will be arrangement #2.
 

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The other reason Measurement Canada is concerned is that to correctly bill the consumption side the Utilities would have to do outside calculations to come up with the final number. This is even more arduous when you talk about time of use rates in residential and spot market pricing and correlation of demand charges on commercial connections.

There are a lot of projects that went down the series metering route prior to that ruling.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Ham: The panels will be fixed. My roof faces 200 degrees and I'm going to go for a 30 degree tilt (optimum for annual production using the pvwatts.org/NREL calculator and the London data). Using the same array and a 2-axis tracker could get about 40% more annual production but the initial cost would be higher (ground mounting/footings, computerized/motorized structure, farther from the service, take up real estate, etc) and introduce maintenance requirements so I'd just as soon not go there.
 

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Not much of an update this week...

Building permit is still being 'processed' (aged) by the township with a target date of June 30. Not sure what the holdup is... the engineer has already given them the required CYA so all they should have to do is collect the money and write the permit.

The installer says that all the bits and pieces should be coming in this week or next. Hopefully everything will come together at approximately the same time. Apparently there is a bit of a mad scramble out there with installers fighting over product from suppliers trying to ramp up to meet demand... it seems that the OPA released a big batch of conditional offers at the same time as mine.
 

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great project blog

Thanks for this information, I have a friend considering a small generation project, and although a different configuration it is always good to see what someone else experiences going through the process(es). I use the retscreen software regularly now, and in my experience it is a good tool even if MS dependant. I will be watching for updates on this project and wish you well.
 

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Great info SlimDiesel! It sounds like quite a process to get going (put me off ~5 years ago when the return was so much smaller), but now that I'm not doing anything worthwhile LOL, I have the time to tackle it. Time to seriously consider putting that aerial waste of space to some use, the south side at least... Edit: too bad I didn't see this thread before today, would have saved me some time last week...:)

Will do some preliminary "official" stuff tomorrow, made some contacts in local gov last week. Locally they are typically IMO "fake green": they talk it up and do a lot of stuff that looks good superficially, but when you actually want to do something that's de facto useful they put as many (legal/financial) roadblocks as possible in your way. Unless it's their own plan. Plus an awful NIMBY area, easily competes with TO for that; luckily "flat on the roof" is pretty non-intrusive. There was an article in the local rag a couple weeks ago about a nearby guy who did just this, so it certainly is doable, opened his house to those interested, but by the time I read the rag it was too late...

Do the panels affect your house insurance much? Does the matter that the panels are generating income, and thus I guess effectively a "business", affect anything in that regard?

I have always wondered this minor thing: do the panels have any cooling or heating effect on the roof & upper storey of a house? I wouldn't think much, but it could get warmer under the panels with the reduced air circulation. Or maybe it gets cooler with the panels "absorbing" a lot of the sun's heat? Thanks.
 

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10K PV ground mount system.

I'm committed to the above system, and have already paid $33,000 of the $67,500 it will cost.
Last evening (Friday, on a long weekend), I got this notice from microFIT....

Dear microFIT Applicant,



New Price Category Proposed for microFIT Ground-Mounted Solar PV Projects



Last October the Ontario Power Authority launched the successful microFIT Program. Participation in the program is very popular and it has vastly surpassed expectations. In fact, more than 16,000 applications have been submitted, with a large majority being for ground-mounted solar projects.

To help ensure the program remains sustainable the OPA has proposed a new price category for microFIT ground-mounted solar PV projects. Ground-mounted solar PV projects of 10 kilowatts or less will be eligible to receive a proposed price of 58.8 cents per kilowatt-hour (¢/kWh). Rooftop solar PV projects, as defined in the microFIT Rules, version 1.4, will continue to be eligible for 80.2 ¢/kWh.

The proposed new price category will better reflect the lower costs to install a ground-mounted solar PV project versus a rooftop project. It will provide a price that enables future project owners to recover costs of the projects as well as earn a reasonable return on their investment over the long term.

There will be a 30-day comment period on the proposed new price. microFIT application intake will continue during that time.

You are being advised of this change because you have applied for a microFIT solar PV contract but have not yet received a conditional offer. Consistent with the microFIT Rules version 1.4, if your solar PV project is a rooftop project, your contract offer will be at the original price of 80.2 ¢/kWh. A rooftop project is one that is being installed on the roof of an existing permanent building, such as a home, small business or other institution. Please review the definition of “Rooftop Facility” in the microFIT Rules, version 1.4. If your solar PV project does not comply with the definition of a rooftop facility, it is considered a ground-mounted project, and you will be offered a contract under the proposed new price category.

The microFIT program was designed on the principle of a reasonable rate of return. Program uptake to date has surpassed what the OPA had anticipated when it launched the program. More than 16,000 applications have been submitted. Virtually all of the projects are for solar PV, and the size of the projects indicates that the majority of applications are for ground-mounted, rather than rooftop, projects.

The cost to install a ground-mounted solar PV project is lower than the cost to install a rooftop project. This proposed new price for ground-mounted solar PV projects will provide ground-mounted solar generators with the same reasonable rate of return that other generators will receive over the 20-year term of their contracts. The OPA believes the proposed new price category is fair, reasonable, more accurately reflects the costs associated with these types of projects and maintains the long-term stability of the program.

The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure supports this decision because it ensures that the microFIT Program is meeting its program goals and is providing proper value to generators and ratepayers. The OPA believes it is in the best long-term, sustainable interests of the program, generators and ratepayers that a proposed new price category be created now so the program can realize the value it was intended to deliver.

A separate communication will provide instructions on how you are to indicate on your microFIT application whether your project is a rooftop or a ground-mounted project. You will then need to resubmit your application. Ground-mounted applications will be processed following the 30-day comment period.

More information is also available on the microFIT website.

The OPA will be holding webinars on July 6 and July 8, 2010 to discuss the introduction of this proposed new price category and answer questions. The OPA will also accept comments by e-mail and regular mail. Details on how to participate in the webinars or submit comments can be found on the microFIT website.

Regards,
FIT Team


So far, this 26.7% reduction in revenue is only 'proposed', but we need to fight this.
They can't just unilaterally, and arbitrarily, change the rules in the middle of the game!
But that's what they are attempting to do
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Sorry this has taken a few days... vacation, you know...

cfraser: I don't yet know how the system might affect household insurance. There is a reference to the topic at the SWITCH Kingston website (http://switchkingston.ca/wiki/doku.php?id=microfit:insurance) but I haven't yet contacted my agent. It certainly won't invalidate my insurance... that's what the engineering analysis, permit process and ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) inspections are about. My insurance didn't care when I installed an automatic standby generator as long as it had the right approvals and was ESA-inspected. Probably the worst that can happen is that the system itself will be uninsured.

As far as the heating/cooling the roof goes, I expect my garage to get a LOT cooler in the summer because the panels will be 'shading' about 75% of my charcoal-black roof. Sure, the panels will get quite warm because they're jet black and only turn about 15% of the energy that falls on them into electricity, but the heat they themselves reradiate will be in free-air above the roof.

milt: This is not changing the rules after the fact. The rules state very clearly that your contract price will be the price in effect on the date of the issuance of your conditional contract. If you signed the system purchase contract before your conditional contract issued then you took a gamble and lost. I took the same risk but had a different outcome - the 80.2 cents is locked in for a year. Welcome to the world of business.
 

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SlimDiesel: If you check your contract with OPA I think you'll find that you are locked in at 80.2 cents for 20 years, not just one.

What the microFIT program is attempting to do is called "bait and switch" in business, and I believe it's against the law.
The 'bait' was the promise of 80.2 cents per kilowatt.
According to the notice from microFIT that I posted above, a large majority of the 16,000 applications are for ground-mounted solar projects.
"More than 16,000 applications have been submitted. Virtually all of the projects are for solar PV, and the size of the projects indicates that the majority of applications are for ground-mounted, rather than rooftop, projects."
So roughly 16,000 people took the bait, and some of them, like me, started ordering panels, inverters, etc., because they are not available 'off-the-shelf' and must be ordered well in advance. My 48 panels & 2 5000watt inverters took 7 weeks to get here from China.
At 8+ weeks, I am still waiting for my 'conditional contract'.
And now microFIT hits me, and~16,000 others, with the 'switch'
All of my calculations regarding financial feasibility, financing, bank loans etc., were done using the 80.2 # I was given.
Now everything is out the window and I'm back to square one.
I do have an 'out' clause in my system purchase contract, but I'll lose my original $3,000 deposit.
If I go ahead with the project, at 58.8 cents, I'll lose $3,000 a year, for the next 20 years.
 
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