The next green energy boom: roofs

Rooftop solar panels are making power, and big profits

Solar panels, roofs, green energy

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Searching for the latest land rush? Look up. But not too far up. In Ontario, rooftops have become a boom town all their own. Green energy policies announced last year by the Ontario government have turned rooftop solar power installations into can’t-miss money-makers. And that’s caused a mad rush to secure the rights to roofs across the province.

Ontario promises to pay up to 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. This price, called a feed-in tariff, is guaranteed for 20 years. While residents currently pay as little as 4.4 cents per kWh for their power, the cost of these large solar subsidies will eventually work their way into future rates, pushing them up. Still, there’s been little in the way of opposition.

“This is an incredible opportunity,” says Justin Woodward, director of solar development at Greta Energy Inc, one of many firms now roaming the province looking to lease roof space. “But it is getting more and more crowded.” With the best locations quickly depleting, Woodward has been looking to smaller centres for virgin roofs. Greta typically offers 40 cents per square foot in annual lease payments for the right to put up panels. “This was just empty space for building owners. Now it can be generating income,” Woodward says. It’s such a sweet deal, everyone wants a piece of the action. Loblaw Co. Ltd., the food retailing giant, plans to turn 136 of its stores into rooftop generators. And one Toronto home builder provides rooftop hookups on its new houses, with the prospect of $1,200 in annual lease payments for homeowners who sign solar power deals.

The only question now is how long the rooftop land rush will last. In Europe, solar power feed-in tariffs are under fire for being overly generous. Spain is looking to drop its future rates 30 to 40 per cent. And Germany just implemented a 10 per cent cut but is considering further reductions as well. For this boom, there may well be a dark cloud on the horizon.

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