Julius Bloomfield

Julius Bloomfield is pictured in a 2018 file photo.

City staff has been ordered to come up with a more progressive strategy to encourage Penticton residents to switch to solar power.

The direction came Tuesday after council received a report from electrical utility manager Shawn Filice that was spurred by a presentation in June from a group of homeowners who complained about recent changes to the net-metering program.

Filice recommended things be left as they are, but council zapped that notion.

“I think what we’ve got here is a classic argument from staff for no action, which equals no progress, which . . . equals a loss of support for the city utility from our customers,” said Coun. Julius Bloomfield.

He also noted the B.C. government is moving towards mandating homes and building be net-zero by 2032.

“So, on the one hand we’re telling people they’re going to have to be net-zero by 2032, and on the other hand we’re putting up roadblocks for people installing renewable energy systems today,” said Bloomfield.

Net metering allows those with solar panels or wind turbines to sell excess power back onto the grid. At present there are a total of 34 homes and businesses in Penticton on the net-metering program.

The group that appeared before council in June suggested that rather than purchasing the power, the city agree to “bank” it for future use. For example, if a homeowner put 100 kilowatt-hours of power onto the grid in the summer when solar energy is in abundance, that homeowner could then at no cost draw 100 kilowatt-hours of power in the winter when solar energy is in short supply.

Filice cautioned, however, that creating a bank for a small group of customers would unfairly impact the majority of other users, who would essentially subsidize the fixed costs associated with the net-metering group.

He also cautioned that setting up a computer system to reconcile 34 net-metering accounts annually — rather than monthly as it’s done now — could cost up to $60,000.

Bloomfield dismissed that estimate as “mind-boggling.”

“We could have somebody sit in a room once a year and reconcile those accounts by hand with a calculator and it wouldn’t come to anything near that dollar amount,” he said.

Council later voted unanimously to have staff return at a later date with options for net-zero banking.