The president of a local solar panel company says he has hit a roadblock in obtaining future assistance from a program once promoted as a cornerstone of provincial support for P.E.I.’s solar sector.
Steve Howard, president of Solar Island Electric Inc., said it has taken him a year to obtain approval for a tax credit from the Community Economic Development Business program. The CEDB program provides a 35 per cent tax credit for Islanders who invest in local businesses. The program was identified as a key government program for promoting the Island’s solar industry in the 2016 provincial energy strategy.
Howard said he was approved for the tax credit in May, but for only a third of the amount he had hoped to raise from local investors.
"We had to fight for quite some time to get it going," Howard said.
"We finally got approved but not approved for what we had asked for, approved for basically a third of what we had asked for, but with this stipulation that we'll never approve that business model again."
Howard said Solar Island Electric Inc. was one of the most well-known solar enterprises on P.E.I. The co-operative allows Islanders to invest in solar development and offset the high cost of installation on buildings. The company had been approved for the CEDB tax credit since 2014.
"We've had many calls from folks interested in the program, but we've had to tell them it's a very uncertain future," Howard said.
Howard said without the CEDB tax credit, the company might have to focus its efforts on clients in Nova Scotia rather than P.E.I.
A spokesperson for the provincial government said Solar Island Electric Inc.’s share purchase and panel leasing business model “raised questions”.
“We are assessing future eligibility,” read a statement emailed to The Guardian.
The issue was raised on Wednesday in the legislature by PC MLA Jamie Fox, who accused Energy Minister Paula Biggar of failing to promote solar energy on P.E.I.
"Why are you so against having Islanders invest in solar power?" Fox asked during question period on Wednesday.
The question was part of a volley of questions levelled against government ministers by PC MLAs about solar development on P.E.I. The questions came after a National Energy Board report found that P.E.I. and Saskatchewan are the most economically cost-effective provinces for solar panel development.
Finance Minister Heath MacDonald disputed that CEDB funding for solar enterprises had been discontinued.
"Solar Island has been in contact with our office. We'll continue to work with them and possibly expand what we have already," MacDonald said.
But, Howard said the news that his business would no longer qualify for the CEDB program after this year spelled disaster for solar development on the Island.
"Solar Island was the only solar CEDB on P.E.I.,” Howard said.