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What are "environmental attributes"? (And why should solar PV owners care?)

"Environmental attributes". It's at once an innocuous term and an impenetrable one. What does it mean? And why, if you're thinking of installing solar or joining a carbon credit program, is it important for you to understand it?

Despite the vagueness of the term, in the context of solar PV installations, the term "environmental attributes" has a fairly specific meaning:

  • A PV system will generate electricity.

  • More specifically still, it will generate clean electricity.

  • This means it is associated with a reduction in air emissions, including greenhouse gases, that would otherwise have been emitted.

  • When quantified, these positive environmental impacts may be eligible to be converted into some kind of trackable, tradeable permit, certificate or credit.

  • This potential is your solar PV system's "environmental attributes".

So, why does this matter to owners, or prospective owners, of solar PV systems? Quite simply, because these environmental attributes have potential value - for example, by joining Solar Offset, your environmental attributes, in the form of carbon offset credits, are sold into the Alberta carbon market, returning additional revenue to you.


However, some grants lay claim to your environmental attributes as a condition of you receiving your grant funding.


Take this example from the City of Medicine Hat:

"The Applicant confirms ownership of any attribute of an environmental or similar nature that is created or otherwise arises from the generation of electricity from solar powered energy. The Applicant further attests that said attributes have not been claimed, sold, or otherwise transferred to another party. The Applicant consents that the City of Medicine Hat shall be the aggregator of the solar generator with ownership of any attribute of an environmental or similar nature that is created or otherwise arises from the generation of electricity from solar powered energy."


Or this example from the City of Edmonton's Residential Solar Program:

"The Applicant agrees to convey ownership to the City of Edmonton, or its successors, all environmental attributes and environmental products that are created or otherwise arise from this project in any jurisdiction, including but not limited to renewable energy certificates, solar renewable energy certificates, or carbon offset credits. The Applicant warrants that said attributes have not been claimed, sold or otherwise transferred to another party."


In both cases, what this legalese means is that a) you're confirming you are the current owner of the environmental attributes but b) you're signing over ownership to the City in return for the grant. In other words, they will own the environmental attributes instead of you. This may be the right decision for some system owners, but not for others.


By contrast, the Canada Greener Homes Grant doesn't lay claim to your environmental attributes, nor do the grant programs from Banff or Canmore. See our blog post here for more on the grants that do/not impact your environmental attributes.


In summary, it's important for all solar PV owners - or prospective owners - to look for this term before signing any contract relating to the installation, funding or sale of your solar PV system or its electricity, so you know if that contract will result in you keeping ownership of these environmental attributes, or signing them over to someone else.


NOTE: We're not lawyers...The information on this website is provided as a public service for information purposes only, it is not legal advice and should not be relied upon in such a manner.





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