Money from above

A pioneering small business is using solar power to produce clean electricity and turn a profit

Diane Neve, operations manager at Cambridge Environmental Products, expects the fi rm?s $80,000 solar system to pay $700 to $900 monthly ACCORDING TO CAMBRIDGE Environmental Products Inc., a Komoka-based wholesaler of scientifi c equipment and supplies, installing solar panels on their roof has allowed them to become a virtual landlord of clean energy. ?It will take eight to 10 years to pay back the initial investment in solar,? says Diane Neve, the fi rm?s operations manager, ?but then it will be like having a silent tenant on the roof.? Cambridge Environmental Products is an early adopter of the Ontario Power Authority?s (OPA) Micro Feed-in Tariff Program (microFIT). MicroFIT was set up to encourage homeowners and small businesses to generate clean (under 10 kilowatts) electricity and sell it back to the Ontario grid. Th e program off ers a fi xed price for the power generated?80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in the case of solar?and a 20-year contract. ?Before microFIT, putting in solar did not make any sense from a return-on-investment perspective,? says Neve. ?Now it is fi nancially feasible to do it.? Solar?s payback is the highest of all sources of renewable power, including wind, biomass and waterpower. A photovoltaic (solar electric) system converts the sun?s rays into standard household current. Unlike a coal-fi red plant?s greenhouse gas emissions and the waste issues associated with nuclear facilities, solar systems produce no air, ground or water pollution. Cambridge Environmental Products invested a total of $80,000 to install their solar photovoltaic system?45 panels and related equipment plus installation, inspection, legal and accounting expenses. ?Over 20 years we expect to get $700 to $900 back per month,? says Neve. ?Th ey [OPA] deposit the money right into your bank account.? 8 | businesslondon.ca | MAY 2010 Th e fi rm inherited a 600-amp electrical service from the location?s previous owner, a printing company, which greatly exceeds their power needs. But the 5,000-square-foot building in the Kilworth Business Park has an angled south-facing roof?prime solar real estate. ?Th e cost of our service will always be at least $150 per month,? says Neve. ?And the solar power won?t change that. But we know electricity is going up.? Neve says they scoped out potential solar equipment suppliers at home shows and called several for a quote. Only one, Enviro-Energy Technologies from the Toronto area, came out to measure. ?Some of these others may just be jumping on the bandwagon,? suspects Neve. ?For an estimate people would say, ?Tell me what you have heard from someone else.?? Aft er watching Enviro-Energy Technologies install a solar panel system on a local residence, they were sold. ?Th ey seemed to know what they were doing,? says Neve. ?And they had customers.? According to Neve, investing in renewable energy also requires a leap of faith from support services. ?My insurance company did not know much about it,? she says. ?Basically, no one knows.? Th e fi rm increased the insurance on their building to include their capital investment in the solar installation. Ontario regulations are also a moving target. ?[Th e] problem is, there is going to be a long learning curve,? says Brad Bromley, an electrical inspector for the Electrical Safety Authority. ?Th e guideline book is two-months-old and it has already been replaced.? For example, between the time the Cambridge Environmental Products installation had been completed and the time it was inspected, Weights and Measures Canada had abolished electrical series connections in favour of parallel connections, which they believe give more accurate readings. Nonetheless, a recent Queens University study estimated there is 90 gigawatts of potential solar power in Southeastern Ontario alone (Ontario coal-fi red plants produce six gigawatts), so pioneers like Cambridge Environmental Products are not likely to be alone in the sun for long. ? MARY ANN COLIHAN SNAPSHOT > Cambridge Environmental Products, a local wholesale supplier of medical, scientific and environmental testing equipment, invested $80,000 to install a rooftop photo voltaic (solar electric) system in order to sell electricity back to the Ontario grid. > The firm is one of the area?s first businesses to register with Ontario?s microFIT Program. The business will be paid a guaranteed price for all the electricity it produces for a 20-year period. > With an estimated payment of $700 to $900 a month, the firm expects to recoup its initial investment in eight to 10 years. www.microfit.powerauthority.on.ca

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