'I'm still waiting': dozens of Manitoba solar system installations in the queue under expired incentive program
WINNIPEG - A solar energy company is seeking an extension to complete projects under a Manitoba Hydro incentive program that stopped accepting applications 18 months ago.
The Crown corporation's Solar Energy Pilot Program ended in April 2018 but some customers are still waiting for their solar systems to be installed. One installer is blaming Manitoba Hydro for the delays but the utility said it's not at fault.
Mike Reimer made the decision to go solar back in April 2018, just before the deadline to apply for a rebate under the incentive program. The two-year pilot covers about 25 per cent of installation costs.
"I saw that there would be some cost savings and also I know it's good for the environment, so wanted to take advantage of the incentive as well,” said Reimer. "I felt it was a good deal."
Eighteen months after applying and with his project approved, Reimer's still waiting for a company called Sycamore Energy, also known as Solar Manitoba, to install his solar system.
Reimer said he’s paid the company nearly $10,000. He said Sycamore promised to finish the work by May 2019 but the deadline has since been pushed back twice – first to this past September and then to May 2020.
"I'm still waiting,” said Reimer. “I've paid about 90 per cent of the total cost and I have nothing to show for it."
Reimer's not alone.
Manitoba Hydro said 252 projects are approved and awaiting completion by more than one contractor.
Sycamore Energy’s chief operating officer, Alex Stuart, said the company he works for is responsible for completing about 100 of those projects.
"At this point, yeah, some of our customers have been facing delays,” said Stuart.
Stuart blames Manitoba Hydro for delays in completing inspections after solar systems are installed.
He acknowledged Manitoba Hydro has granted extensions to his company to finish projects but he said the utility's no longer willing to give them any more time and with winter coming, they need another extension to finish their work.
"We're reaching out to all of our customers saying, 'look you need to ask for another construction season,’” said Stuart. “There's 250 projects left to be completed in all of Manitoba. We've got under 100 left to do. So there's certainly lots of other folks, if they don't get their extensions, they're going to miss out on the solar program as well."
Manitoba Hydro said the program was more popular than it anticipated, with more than 1600 applications coming forward. It acknowledged there were some delays with inspections when the program first started back in April 2016 but Manitoba Hydro said those kinks have since been worked out.
"In fact we're making sure that inspections are completed absolutely as quickly as possible when these projects are complete and the installations are done,” said Scott Powell, Manitoba Hydro’s director of corporate communications
Prior to the end of the program in April 2018, Manitoba Hydro said a note was sent to all contractors informing them installations had to be finished within 12 months of a customer's application being approved.
Since then, Hydro said it's granted contractors, including Sycamore, extensions.
"To really blame any particular issue the company is having on Manitoba Hydro – when we've clearly communicated deadlines, offered numerous extensions that they requested – is somewhat disingenuous, to say the least,” said Powell.
Stuart said some customers have cancelled projects with Sycamore – costing the firm around $1 million in revenue.
"It's our intention to make sure that every person's project gets installed that wants solar,” said Stuart.
Reimer said he plans to stick with Sycamore for now but his patience is wearing thin.
"I don't know if I can wait any longer,” he said. “I don't want to wait and then have nothing in the end."
Stuart said Manitoba Hydro inadvertently sent an email to some of its solar customers that contained 23 email addresses belonging to other customers.
Stuart said Sycamore’s concerned their competitors may have seen that information.
Hydro said it was an error and that it has taken immediate steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.
The Crown corporation said its encouraging customers to stick with their current supplier to get any outstanding work, done. The utility said it's up to each customer to decide if they want to take their business elsewhere.
Manitoba Hydro said some extensions have been granted right through to June 2020 but didn't specify for which contractor.
It doesn't appear Hydro is willing to grant extensions any longer than that but didn't rule it out.