Nelsonites gather to discuss potential for community solar garden
Nelson is widely known as one the most progressive places in all of Canada, and now area residents could have the chance to add to that reputation by helping to build a community solar garden in the Queen City.
Nelson Hydro and the West Kootenay Eco Society are hosting a Conversation Café at Oso Negro Wednesday (April 8 at 7 p.m.) to provide information and gauge the levels of local interest in potentially building a community solar garden that would provide clean power to area residents and also help support the solar power movement across the country.
What is a community solar garden? In a nutshell, it’s a solar power installation with a system set up that lets community members purchase a subscription to a portion of the array. It lets homes and businesses access solar energy no matter where they’re located.
Solar energy generated for the array would then be credited to the subscriber’s power bill in the form of a credit proportional to their investment in the project.
What would a solar garden in Nelson look like? It would consist of between 192 and 342 solar panels producing 50 to 90 kilowatts of power – or perhaps more if enough interest is generated. Cost estimates sit at about $4,000 to install 1 kilowatt worth of power in a community solar garden, compared to a cost of $5,700 per kilowatt for installation on a private home.
And why would Nelson need such a facility, when we have abundant hydropower from the nearby dams?
Carmen Proctor, EcoSave program coordinator for Nelson Hydro, says it’s more a matter of getting involved in a movement than meeting any pressing need for power.
“It’s not so much a point of need,” Proctor says. “Solar power is becoming more popular, and it’s a renewable energy. The cost has come down so much and we do have sufficient sun that it’s an option (Nelson Hydro) would like to offer its customers.”
She adds that a solar garden in Nelson would be a fairly small-scale project made possible by the fact that the city owns its own power company.
“We don’t have to have a lot of red tape dealing with other utilities,” Proctor notes. “We can do a smaller scale project here that other communities can don on a larger scale in Canada, and learn from it so we can basically help grow solar in Canada.
And she adds that while much of the power Nelson area residents consume might appear to be green power generated from hydroelectricity, that’s not always the case. Proctor notes that Nelson Hydro produces only about half the energy needed to power the city, and purchases the rest from FortisBC.
“FortisBC purchases power from the open market, and some of that does from coal,” she explains.
Support renewable energy and maybe save a bit on your bill
While it might help make Nelson’s energy more environmentally friendly, Proctor notes that subscribing to a community solar garden project in Nelson wouldn’t necessarily save you much money on your power bill.
“The important thing to note is we’re not doing it as a way for people to get rid of their hydro bill,” she says. “It won’t be on that big of a scale.
“People who invest in it will be paying a bit of a premium, and depending on funding and interest from other players, they may have a bit of a return or get a bit of a credit.”
The big payoff for those who would choose to support this kind of project in Nelson would come in the form of providing support for renewable energy and the burgeoning solar power industry in Canada.
“People interested in doing this would be doing so for the purpose of seeing renewable energy, solar power, get off the ground, and participating in part of a solution,” Proctor explains.
The goal of tonight’s Conversation Café is to discuss the concept of a community solar garden and assess the level of interest and support from the community for a project like this.
“Because we have such a progressive community that’s interested, and we do have the capability of doing this through our own utility, we want to see what the public’s interest would be,” Proctor says, adding that the input being sought for the project includes potential locations, costs, paybacks and levels of commitment.
“It’s a community solar garden, so we want to involve the community to try and make some of these decisions.”
She adds that there has been a really positive response already, as she has a list of 130 people who have expressed interest in the project via a couple of events and a bit of advertising exposure.
Proctor encourages everyone to come out to the conversation café to be a part of the discussion, but adds that anyone who can’t make it can contact her at email@example.com to be added to the e-mail list for future events and updates.
Image via chandramarsono, Flickr Creative Commons