Local business is ready to move Medicine Hat towards renewables

Alberta is on a shift to renewables and is pushing to meet its environmental goal of reducing carbon emissions.  The new priority is to tackle global warming and collectively governments around the world are looking closely at how they can obtain energy from alternative energy sources like wind and solar instead of coal.

Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan outlines the plan to obtain 30% of its electricity from these alternative energy sources by the year 2030. [1]

This appears to be an extraordinary transition goal at first glance.  Is this goal achievable and how will we get there?

One local Medicine Hat company is poised and ready to assist in that transformation to renewables. Terralta Inc. started their operations in 1998 in Yorkton, SK and were installing geothermal systems at that time. After relocating their operations to Medicine Hat, they began exploring solar photovoltaic systems.  Terralta has since installed numerous solar panels (solar PV) for both residential and commercial customers across the region.  Starting with small scale residential systems in 2009, they have since moved on to large scale roof top solar, recently installing a 200kw array in Cardston, Alberta.

I met with Laura Shivak, Owner of Terralta Inc. as well as Marcus Campbell, the Director of Operations to learn more about the industry.  “The interest in residential and commercial installations really peaked when the NDP came into power.  We have since had a steady flow of inquiries because of the City’s HAT Smart program,” says Laura.  “The City of Medicine Hat currently offers an incentive for the installation of residential solar PV,” she says, “but there is no program for geothermal at this time.”  

“In 2009, we focused primarily on geothermal, plumbing and mechanical but then decided to explore the solar PV market.  Marcus Campbell was brought in to handle that sector of the business,” says Laura.   Marcus described the journey to learn about the industry as so much of it was still so new, “I spent many years researching the industry, training and learning about the many products and available suppliers.  Because of this work, we now have access to quality products and can focus on quality installations with strong and reliable supplier relationships.  This research allows us to be well positioned to handle the demand and industry growth in our region today.”

Laura admits that business cycles have been unsteady so they have had to make adjustments and changes to streamline the business.  “We eliminated unnecessary equipment, sold what we did not need to get that inventory off of our books.  We created a strategic partnership with Enmax in 2011,” says Laura.  “A partnership with Enmax and becoming an authorized dealer has created a strong relationship which allows us to receive work orders from them. This is good for our business.”  Laura was able to expand operations with a loan from Community Futures Entre-Corp to fund equipment, inventory and working capital to prepare for the new influx of work orders that they have received. 

Advancements in technology have made solar PV conversions much more attractive as production can be tracked.   Laura explained how they are able to monitor a site when it is installed through various software programs.  The monitoring system enables Terralta and the customer to measure the number of kilowatts produced per day, per week, per month and per year.  It is essentially a monitoring system for the lifetime of the energy system. 

“Customers are also very interested in knowing about environmental benefits such as CO2 emissions saved and lightbulbs powered.   The average home consumes about 30 kilowatts a day.  A home solar PV system can produce anywhere from 20 to 35 kilowatts a day from spring to fall,” says Marcus.  Marcus explained that a typical system might cost around $15,000 and with the current subsidies available through city and provincial grants, you can expect that about 50% can be subsidized.

Terralta has an abundance of work booked for the coming months.  With a list of eager customers looking to participate in grant programs, there are about 30 new orders waiting for installation.  With a steady flow of business, Terralta is poised for growth.  Currently employing 6 full-time employees, Terralta may be looking to hire in the coming months to keep up with the demand.

Three pieces of advice they would give to new entrepreneurs are:

1. Ensure you have sufficient working capital up front.

2. New technology is new! Do your research and don’t be so quick to jump in. Make sure it is a good fit for your company. Timing is critical.

3.  Do not be afraid to admit when you do not know how to do something.  Take your time, learn about it and try not accomplish everything all at once.

You can visit their website at:   http://terralta.net/

This story was written by Elizabeth Blair. Elizabeth is the regional innovation network (RIN) coordinator at Community Futures Entre-Corp and works to oversee activities with APEX. APEX is a Regional Innovation Network that supports the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta.

APEX is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp Business Development, Medicine Hat College; and Alberta Innovates. APEX strives to support local entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized enterprises to develop and adopt new technologies, commercialize innovative new products, improve productivity, and get connected to Alberta’s Innovation System.

[1]  Alberta Government, Renewable and Alternative Energy Industry.  Retrieved from https://www.alberta.ca/renewable-electricity-program.aspx