After more than 30 years in the woodstove business, Elmira Stove Works has made a slight change to their product lineup. They will still manufacture the same high-efficiency stoves, fridges, and other kitchen appliances that have made them a household name throughout North America, but the company has begun to design and construct large solar units for commercial buildings and agricultural clients.
The move towards renewable energy is nothing new for this company.
“My father started the company in the 1970s, and at that point he was involved with wood cook-stoves,” said company vice-president Brian Hendrick. “In 1978, the Ontario government launched an ‘off-oil’ incentive program to lure residential customers to alternative energy sources for heating. We responded by introducing a line of high-efficiency wood-burning heating stoves.”
The similarities between the “off-oil” program of the 1970s and the McGuinty government’s plan to get Ontario off coal-fired plants are clear to Elmira Stove Works; since the middle of 2010 the company has designed and assembled fixed ground-mount and roof-mount solar units ranging from 10 kilowatts up to 500 kilowatts.
The Ontario government has also enabled the Feed In Tariff (FIT) program under the Green Energy Act of 2009, which was designed to encourage the development of renewable energy in Ontario by helping to phase out the use of coal by 2014, to boost the economic activity and development of renewable energy technology, and to create new green industries and jobs.
The government is paying up to 80 cents per kWh for roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels, 64.5 cents for ground-mounted panels, 13.5 cents per kWh from wind, and from 13 cents to 16 cents for biogas, biomass, hydro and landfill gas.
Elmira Stove Works manages the entire process for its clients, from engineering analyses to layouts, product acquisition, installation and connection, including assistance with the paperwork required to qualify for the Ontario government’s FIT program.
“The Feed In Tariff program is a good program,” said Hendrick. “Solar is going to be the biggest because we’ve all heard about the controversy around wind turbines all over this region, but solar is definitely more favourable for people. It sort of just does its own thing – it’s up on the roof or in the corner of a field – so that’s why our focus is solar.”
They are even in the process of installing their own solar panel unit on the roof of their Elmira office, though the winter weather has delayed the completion of the project.
“We saw it as a great source of income. With the FIT program, the government is paying a good rate of return for the power, so that creates a good opportunity for investment. We had a roof that was perfect for it, it was flat and we were able to put 135 kilowatts on the roof,” explained Hendrick.
He also admits the uncertainty surrounding the prices guaranteed for electricity under the FIT program has generated some confusion among consumers. The price for power generated by ground-mount units was originally set at 80.2 cents per kilowatt, but lowered to the current 64.5 cents when the popularity of the program exploded back in the summer.
But Hendrick said that it is only a matter of time before everyone makes the switch to renewable energy, and he wants Elmira Stove Works to be at the forefront of that shift.
The company is also drawing upon its 30-plus years of experience building high-efficiency wood-burning stoves to give them the edge. Most of the work will remain in-house, with only a few jobs sub-contracted out to other companies. They have certified solar installers on their staff, as well as Daryl Haycock who is a master electrician and owner of Haycock Electrical, to oversee all of their projects.
“We built this building ourselves and we know construction,” noted Hendrick. “We’ve got the people in our company with the electrical background, we’ve taken all our courses to learn about solar, and it was a good fit for us because of the nature of our business.”
The company is sourcing its solar panels and other materials from a local company as well, Kitchener-based Canadian Solar Inc., which owns seven manufacturing facilities and operates in 24 countries.
“The fact that Canadian Solar has offices 12 minutes away from us, the fact that you walk into their office and they have a team of engineers and a global network that they’re pulling from, it’s a pretty warm feeling when you can walk into that.”
Elmira Stove Works has completed two solar projects since the middle of 2010, as well as started their own roof-top solar array, but Hendrick noted that the progress has been slow given all the red tape surrounding commercial solar panels.
“It’s not a quick procedure to install them,” he said. “Commercial takes up to a year to get all the permits in place, whereas residential can only take several months, and some of the big commercial systems can take three months to install.”
Hendrick said that he has been able to use the good name and even better reputation of Elmira Stove Works that he and his father have built over the decades to help boost interest in his company’s solar panel projects.
“Right now it’s a division of this company, and the biggest thing is that there are so many companies out there getting into solar that are just startups,” he said. “That’s why we’re using the Elmira Stove Works name. People know the name and we’ve been around for a long time, so it’s a bit more of a comfortable feeling than a company that no one has heard of before.”
There will be an information session at the head office at 285 Union St. in Elmira on Feb.15, 7-9 p.m. to provide further information to businesses and farmers who may be interested or have suitable space available on their property.