Homeowners in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), NS, can take advantage of municipal financing through the Solar City program to install solar-powered water heating systems, lower their energy bills, and reduce water consumption. The municipality arranged over 300 system installations in the program's first 14 months — more than the rest of Canada that year — and aims to finance 700 systems within the first two years. Designed to be simple and create economies of scale, Solar City improves purchasing power and reliability, and offers quality assurance to citizens. The program includes education, free water conservation retrofits, an optional performance tracking system, and the first city-level solar "energy potential" map in Canada — an online resource that calculates annual solar energy potential for individual homes based on data collected through Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a remote sensing technology.
Solar City's pioneering funding mechanism puts a new spin on Local Improvement Charge financing by offering Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans to individual homeowners to pay for equipment and installation. The loans are tied to the property and are paid back over time, while homeowners benefit right away from the energy savings. HRM is the first Canadian municipality to employ the PACE user-pay model to create a budget-neutral program that covers administrative and financing costs.
10,500 tonne reduction in GHG emissions over the 25-year lifespan of 300 systems
14 million litres of water saved annually in 1,265 homes
Fewer sulphur, NOX and mercury emissions from heating oil or coal-sourced electricity
$14.4 million in energy savings over 25 years ($20,600 per home)
$1.69 million in water savings over 25 years (700 homes)
Four local businesses involved and more than 40 jobs created
Strong community engagement, with over 3,000 interested homeowners
Over 900 attended 10 open houses and a Solar Fiesta information night
More than 1,200 households educated on water conservation
The project took two and a half years to launch, during which time there were municipal elections and senior management changes. Delays resulted in challenges with procurement and administration.
There was no blueprint for the program's most innovative aspects, including its unique financing mechanism.
When setting up contracts and managing legal risks, the municipality had to balance taxpayer and community interests (economic and environmental) with homeowner concerns, while keeping the paperwork simple and easy to understand.
Keep the program as simple as possible for homeowners and use a comprehensive approach that accounts for quality control, achieves economies of scale, and encourages high participation rates.
Engage the public, municipal council and provincial departments early to create a shared program vision.
Develop and implement the program within 18 months to capitalize on momentum and prevent barriers that may arise with an extended timeline.