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Solar Energy & Micro-Generation

 

Considering a switch to solar energy? Residential and commercial solar energy systems can help reduce Lethbridge's reliance on fossil fuels and contribute to a more sustainable future. We're here to help you feel informed and empowered in your decision making.

Know your energy costs

Your electricity bill can be hard to figure out. It changes based on lots  of variables like how much energy you consume, the time of day you consume it and how many people live in your home. Adding solar panels makes it even more complicated, so understanding your current energy costs is important.

Residential and commercial power bills are based on the following four factors.

How much energy you use is the most important figure on your bill and almost all other line items are based on this value. The amount of energy used in your residential or commercial property depends on many things including what the outside temperature is, what type of appliances you use, how efficient your appliances are, how often you use them, and so on.

Each person and residence uses power differently, but your electrical meter is set up to measure how much total power your home has used over the month. This energy value is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh) and is essentially the amount of energy consumed when something uses 1,000 watts of energy for one hour.

How fast you use energy is called demand, and is measured in kilovolt-amperes (kVA) as a unit of power.

To better understand the difference between energy and demand, think of it like this:

Your neighbour has installed a new pool in their backyard and they need to fill it with water. There are many ways to fill the pool with water, but they're trying to decide between using a garden hose or calling the fire department and using a fire hydrant. One method (garden hose) is slow and inexpensive, while the other (fire hydrant) is fast and costly. The end result is the same—the pool is full of water—but how fast the water got there is quite different.

Electricity is the same: the energy is equivalent to the amount of water and is just a sum at the end of the month, but the demand is how fast you bring the energy in. One person can use a small amount of power continuously for an entire month and use the same amount of energy that another would use by turning on a large appliance for a short period of time. This is the same as using a garden hose instead of a fire hydrant. This value is important for the City of Lethbridge because the system has to be designed to accommodate your demand.

Energy cost is the dollar amount per kWh agreed upon with your retailer when you signed up or entered a contract with them. This price can be a fixed amount, meaning it will not change over the life of the agreement, or it can be variable, meaning it will change monthly with the market rates. This is all based on consumer choice and offers from the retailer.

In the electricity market in Alberta, the energy is bought and sold in a regulated market similar to other goods. That energy needs to make it from where it is produced to where it is consumed. The cost to do that is called the delivery charge. Many groups or entities are involved in delivering energy and as a result the delivery charge is made up of many components.

Transmission chargesA transmission charge is the cost to get the power from where it is generated across the province to the city. This is made up of a fixed charge and an energy charge and it’s typically represented as just a single transmission charge on your bill. This amount is set by the Alberta Utilities Commission along with the companies that provide the transmission facilities and can change throughout the year.

Distribution chargesA distribution charge is the cost for the City of Lethbridge Electrical Utility to bring the power from the substation through the city streets and to your home. This cost is also comprised of a fixed rate, an energy charge and demand charge. This rate is set by City Council along with Electric Design. The local access fee (LAF) is a fee charged by the City of Lethbridge. This fee is charged to use city lands to install electrical facilities to deliver power and is a percentage rate of the distribution charge.

Rate ridersThe last portion of your bill, aside from the GST, is rate riders. These are costs to make up differences in forecasts from previous billing and is meant to clear up over or under billing on your account. These are charges set by the Alberta Utilities Commission and the City.

Solar panels and electricity costs

Electric Design has developed a detailed guide to help you understand what to consider before installing solar panels to your residential or commercial property: Solar Panels and Electricity Costs - Full Guide (PDF)

Follow the process

Make sure to follow the proper process to ensure your solar system is installed correctly and we supply you with the right meter. Otherwise, you might miss out on energy credits, accurate billing and risk being non-compliant with the City's safety codes. Solar energy falls under the category of micro-generation. To become a micro-generator, you need to follow some rules and regulations.

Micro-generation is the production of power through a small-scale renewable source. This includes solar panels, wind turbines, and others. It lets applicants produce a portion or all of their residential or commercial yearly electrical energy consumption.

Micro-generation systems connect to the City of Lethbridge's distribution grid. 

Micro-generation systems need to meet the following requirements:

  • Be less than 5 MW in size
  • Only produce the same amount of yearly energy consumption on site or less, not more
  • Produce power from a renewable energy source such as solar or wind
  • Meet all provincial requirements for electrical safety equipment

Fill out the Micro-Generation Application and include the following documents with your micro-generation application:

  • Single-line diagram
  • Site plan or Google Maps aerial screenshot
  • Component specification sheets from the manufacturer

Email your application package to electricgeneration@lethbridge.ca. Be sure to review and include all required documents with your application. Missing or incomplete documents could delay the application process.

Before you install solar panels for your home or business, determine which permits you need. Permits ensure your work is safe, within City guidelines, and up to code.

Homeowners cannot perform solar installations unless they are a certified electrician. A licensed professional contractor must get a permit for this work.

Solar installations that occupy land space on a parcel must get development approval.

Rooftop and wall-mounted solar installations don't need development approval.

Fill out a Development Permit Application and email it to planninganddesign@lethbridge.ca. If development approval is required, you must get a development permit before applying for any other permits.

A building permit is required for all rooftop and wall-mounted solar installations.

Homeowners can apply for a building permit once Electric Design has approved the micro-generation system.

Be sure to include the following with your building permit application:

  • Drawings that show where the solar modules will be located on the structure.
  • Drawings that show how the solar modules will be supported and anchored to the structure.

An electrical permit is required for all solar installations.

Homeowners cannot perform solar installations unless they are a certified electrician. A licensed professional contractor must get a permit for this work.

Be sure to include the following with your electrical permit application:

  • Signed micro-generation approval from Electric Design
  • Evidence of Canadian approvals of the solar modules (CSA, ULC, Intertek, etc.)
  • Confirmation of racking and solar panel compatibility

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions about solar panels in Lethbridge? Check out our list of FAQs below.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has established the micro-generation regulations to allow a quick process for the approval to install solar on homes and businesses in order for the homes or businesses to become Net Zero in terms of energy.

This means that a micro-generation unit will not produce more energy over the year than the location consumes. Each month will be different in terms of how much energy is produced versus generated with the solar panels, but over the year added up they should be the same.

For solar installations to fall within the micro-generation guidelines it needs to be determined how much energy the home uses over a 12-month period. The City of Lethbridge Electric Utility (LEU) is tasked with approving these installations and determining when a home or business falls within the guidelines.

The solar installer can take the previous 24 months of consumption data reported by the meter at the application site and use a sliding 12-month window over those months to determine the maximum energy used in one year. This means that the time period has to be 12 consecutive months within that last 24 months.

Here's an example of how we determine a home's maximum energy in a 12-month period.

Residents of Lethbridge can install as much solar generation as they can handle on their roof, so the only question is what process does it fall under.

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has created a number of processes to connect generation to the power grid, and the simplest and quickest process is called the micro-generation process and is meant for applicants who only intend to generate the energy that they use over a year period.

If you want to produce more energy than you use over a year period, you would fall under a different process that is longer and much more involved. Studies need to be performed on the electric system to determine power flow and safety implications which takes time and resources to accomplish. Since this process is much longer and more expensive than the micro-generation process, the typical home owner chooses to apply under the micro-generation process.

It’s important to know that the City of Lethbridge Electric Utility (LEU) does not create the processes as this falls under the province and the AUC. The City of Lethbridge Electric Utility simply works to ensure that the installations fall under the correct process.

Clean Energy Improvement Program

The Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP) is an innovative financing tool empowering residential property owners, in the City of Lethbridge, to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades. This program makes sustainable living accessible to residents by providing flexible financing options.

Can't find what you're looking for?

Send an email to Electric Design at electricgeneration@lethbridge.ca.

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