Each of the four western provinces now has regulations in place to allow homeowners, farms and/or small businesses to generate their own electrical power and connect to the provincial distribution grid. Farm energy option seminars were held in Saskatchewan and Alberta this past year to familiarize people with the programs and technologies available.
Size limits for small generation systems and program details vary from province to province. A common angle is that the electricity comes from clean, green or renewable sources such as wind, solar, small-scale water, biomass, biogas microcogeneration and fuel cells.
Power companies and retailers (in Alberta’s deregulated energy market) purchase power from microgeneration customers through net billing arrangements. Bidirectional meters or dual-metering systems are used to record power delivered to and coming from the grid. The general experience has been that most microgeneration systems don’t produce more power than the customer consumes on an annual basis.
The advantages of microgeneration for power companies are twofold. These small systems make the grid more reliable and can be located close to the demand, which helps to prevent transmission line losses.
The benefits for small power producers are that microgeneration improves the reliability of their own power supply and, by connecting to the grid, they save the additional cost of installing systems to store excess electricity from their systems. Over the long term customers may be able to reduce their total annual electricity costs after taking into account the cost of producing their own power.
The provinces have developed guidelines outlining their policies and step-by-step procedures. Some of the considerations in the planning stages include legal matters, such as permits required from municipal governments and other authorities, equipment requirements and compliance, installation procedures, and each party’s obligations. Feasibility studies and environmental plans are required for some types of systems in some jurisdictions.
Customers arrange for and pay all costs associated with an installation. In some provinces, customers pay for the meters and connecting to the grid as well. There may be federal or provincial grants available to help cover a portion of the cost for some types of systems.
The Canadian Wind Energy Association has a website dedicated to small wind energy, where you will find decision-making tools, sizing and siting guidelines, details about measuring wind, a ballpark cost calculator, tips for purchasing a turbine and lists of manufacturers, dealers and installers. The Canadian Solar Industries Association’s website at includes similar resources. Natural Resources Canada has a program, RETScreen, to assist potential microgeneration customers evaluate the viability of their projects.
The overarching message is that there is a lot of homework involved in deciding whether or not microgeneration is for you, what type of system would best fit your requirements, and if you want to connect to the grid.