In September of 2019, SaskPower announced that it was cancelling its popular solar rebate program. As SaskPower president and CEO, Mike Marsh stated, “Going forward we will be reviewing the program to ensure it remains financially sustainable and continues to meet the needs of our customers and our company." Shortly after, Minister of the Environment, Dustin Duncan, said publicly that a new, less generous program, would take its place. Both the government and SaskPower insisted that the program would inflate the cost of electricity in Saskatchewan, and amounted to a subsidy to largely high-income earners who were installing solar panels on their property. But how accurate were these claims?
To find out more about why the program was cancelled, I submitted an FOI to both SaskPower and the Ministry of the Environment for data sheets, models, economic impact assessments, and correspondence related to the program and its demise. The $16,586.37 price tag was too much, so I scaled back the request. In fairness to SaskPower and the Ministry of the Environment, my FOI asked for a four years of reports and correspondence, so the cost was bound to be high. Below is the information I received, including one of the cost estimates.
Unfortunately much of the data has been redacted, notably the sections that provide an outline as to what the real costs might be. Specifically, this question in the Q&A section: "You said those with systems in the old program were heavily subsidized by other customers. To what degree will new participants be subsidized by others?" But the data does show that the government knew about the potential for large-scale job losses, and was provided with the following advice:
Question: "The solar industry in Saskatchewan said that they were going to have to lay off up to 800 employees. Is this new program going to fix that?
Answer: Individual companies will make choices based on their particular circumstances. We know there is a need and business for the solar industry here in Saskatchewan."
Was the first iteration of a solar rebate program the best approach, by measure of economics and meeting the province's renewable targets, I don't know. Did it push me and hundreds of others to invest personal income into solar power? Absolutely. An expert eye is required to make sense of the economic impact of the program, its cancellation, and its re-design. You be the judge.