The recent installation of a 250 kW roof top solar photovoltaic (PV) system on a Kingston, Ont. building is one of the first of what is hoped to be many such systems for Fovēre Investments Inc.
The Toronto-based firm, along with its equipment partner and installer GEMCO Solar Inc., want to cover buildings across the province with electricity-generating PV systems.
The two companies have approximately 28 large scale rooftop installations in the works ranging in size from 250 kW to 500 kW and states that those projects in different stages of development total more than $100 million. The companies cut their teeth as developers of about 250 smaller, on-ground micro-FIT installations across the province since the Ontario Power Authority initiated its Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program in 2006.
What Fovēre brings to the party is a turnkey solution in the form of money from business owners and other high-net worth investors and the hard-earned ability to stick handle renewable energy proposals through the Ontario’s electrical power bureaucracy.
“We are constantly putting contracts in front of the OPA and in some cases could move more quickly maybe than others to have an installation put on somebody’s roof,” said Darryl Abbott, a Principal of Fovēre and President of its solar investment funds.
For property owners, the advantage of having a third-party outfit handle approvals for rooftop solar projects is that they can avoid the hassles of dealing with government red tape for approval and financing for installations. In essence, property owners receive a rental fee for their building that averages around $22,000 – $28,000 per year for 250 kW installations basically double that for 500 kW systems. The bigger system consists of 3200 separate two foot by three foot solar panels.
Bigger is better for PV array owners as the cost of getting approvals and design is pretty much the same regardless of the system`s size. A big solar PV array requires a lot of space. About 100,000 square feet for a 500 kW system, which is the reason why warehouse roofs are the preferred site for most PV installs. Just how large a system that a given building can handle depends on the strength of the roof as the panels can be placed closer together on a sturdier rooftop.
“Warehouses are in-between. A school, a building of that sort would have the strongest roofs, then warehouses and retail tends to be quite thin,” said Abbott. While warehouses have been the preferred until now, under FIT 2, he expects that municipally owned and managed properties will be a new growth area.
One concern property owners have with PV systems is their weight. Fovēre’s engineers contend that PV panels reduce the burden of snow and, in the summer, shield the roof from heat which reduces cooling costs and may prolong the life of the roof.
The other benefit for property owners is environmental bragging rights. “We are finding a lot of the positive responses from corporations is because of corporate image,” said the Fovēre principal.
The company’s recent installation of the 250 kW system on a building owned by Norsecan Properties Corp. will offset 70 metric tonnes of CO2 or the equivalent savings of 30,000 litres of gasoline, GEMCO estimated. The installation, made up of 1,183 roof top solar PV panels, is expected to generate approximately 355 MWh of electricity annually.
Having a third-party outfit install a solar system on a property is also a risk-free way for a property owner to watch the process play out. “They may want to own their own systems one day so just understanding how they work and what the opportunity is for themselves,” said Abbott. “It is a nice way for them to stick their toe in the water and have somebody else take the risk on the development side and on the ownership side.”
The turnkey business model whereby Fovēre and GEMCO control each element of an installation from start to finish is also “necessary in this environment because it is real estate development but it is a new space.”
“I talk with the OPA every day and with Hydro One,” he said. “We finance 100% and own and manage it. We have our own capital, GEMCO is a pretty established group, I think that they have done more solar thermal than most in the country and they are pretty competitive on the rooftop solar PV.”
GEMCO has installed over 30 commercial scale solar thermal projects (which use the sun`s rays to heat water) including Sick Kids Hospital and the Toronto Zoo.
Getting necessary regulatory approvals can be a long and frustrating process and it is getting longer with recent changes. Prior to the introduction of the province`s FIT 2 process, the start to finish time frame took about 15 months for rooftop installations.
With FIT 2, the process will take a little longer but more critically, the bar for approvals has been raised. “FIT 2 restricts you now to a point system where you have to have municipal involvements, First Nations and municipal-community groups. It makes it a lot harder to get approval,” he said.
The introduction of FIT 2 has likely expanded the role for companies such as Fovēre which are willing to assume the time and risk of PV installations. “If you haven`t been in this space for the past two years and kind of growing and dealing with all the twists and turns, it would kind of be a pinata party.”