Vancouver Ranks Last For Solar Policy Among Canadian Cities

By Roy L Hales


One can’t help but notice the timing of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation’s (SPEC) list ranking Canadian Cities on their Solar Energy Policy. Vancouver, which hopes to become the World’s greenest city, is hosting the Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum at the Four Seasons Hotel, May 13-15. Though Vancouver has done well in many areas, SPEC has long maintained that the city’s solar energy policy is not one of them. According to its’ survey of 17 municipalities: Vancouver ranks last for solar policy among Canadian Cities; Edmonton, Toronto & Calgary are policy leaders.

Vancouver Ranks Last For Solar Policy Among Canadian Cities

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SPEC’s ranking of solar policies, Click on photo to expand

The top two cities in SPEC’s survey were two small interior British Columbian municipalities with around 1,000 population. The permitting costs for installing a 5 kW photovoltaic system in Cawston and Keremeos were $80 and $144, respectively.

Canada’s three top major cities were:

  • (#3) Edmonton – $285
  • (#4) Toronto – $342
  • (#5) Calgary – $375

Jenny Hong, Senior Environmental Project Manager with the City of Edmonton, said permitting can be a significant barrier, especially for residential solar installations. Alberta is still in the beginning phases of solar adoption, but Edmonton has established an energy resilience target to generate 10% of the city’s electricity locally, such as through Solar PV, by 2035.

“As part of the energy transition strategy (which the city passed on April 29th, 2015), We will be exploring and implementing various initiatives to increase PV solar adoption in new and existing residential buildings as well as institutional, commercial and industrial buildings,” she said.

SPEC’s survey commended Toronto because of it’s low flat fee electrical permit.

Vancouver’s Permitting & Engineering Costs

Though British Columbia does not regard the development of solar as a priority, the province has more potential than Germany.

Rob Baxter, President of SPEC, said Vancouver ranks last (#17) in its’ survey because the permitting and engineering costs on a 5 kW photovoltaic system can total $2,255.

He first drew the public’s attention to this problem in a press release last December and was also interviewed by the ECOreport.

A spokesperson for the City of Vancouver subsequently said this was a misunderstanding. Permitting costs do not include the equipment, just installation costs, which significantly reduces SPEC’s totals.

To which Baxter replied, the city made a verbal commitment which is expected to reduce the total by $650. This is not in writing and will still be at least three times higher than permitting in Toronto.

Vancouver’s spokesperson explained the high cost because of the need for engineers to incorporate earthquake risks into their design.

Yet the city of Colwood, which is ranked #8 on SPEC’s survey, is also in an earthquake zone and  does not require a building permit for solar if:

  • The PV systems distributed weight does not exert a load greater than 5lbs/sq. ft. on the roof,
  • The system connection to the roof results in the each point of connection being less than 50lbs.

In fact, there are ten other British Columbian cities in SPEC’s survey, and all of them have lower permitting and engineering costs than Vancouver.

Being the Greenest City

In a previous interview, Baxter said, “Vancouver is talking about being the greenest city. It seems to me that in this case you would want to have at policy that was at least as good as other cities, if not better.”

Vancouver Renewable Energy is currently nine weeks into the permitting process for a project in the city. That was just the development permit. They still have to apply for building and electrical permits and hire an engineer.

“The city keeps telling us things will get better, but they do not,” said Baxter.

Installation in Langley BC, bordering Surrey, by Vancouver Renewable Energy

They city of Surrey (#15) is not much better. Homeowner Eugene Beregovoy said  municipal requirements add 12% to the system cos, making the system, “Worthless to install.  It will take an additional 3 years for my system to pay for those costs.”

SPEC chose the opening of the Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum to remind Vancouver of the problem. This morning government, industry and civil leaders are in the city for a forum celebrating “the global movement for 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency in cities.”

Photo Credit: View From the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver by Roy Luck via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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