A successful sunny garden

Nelson, B.C.’s Community Solar Garden is a concept worth replicating

Taken by a drone, this aerial shot of Nelson Hydro’s Bonnington generating station also shows the clearcut (upper right) where the solar garden will be located.

Taken by a drone, this aerial shot of Nelson Hydro’s Bonnington generating station also shows the clearcut (upper right) where the solar garden will be located. — Cal Laybourne photo

Move over, SunMine in Kimberley. There’s a new solar kid on the Kootenay block, and it’s going to get lots of press and accolades, too.

Nelson’s Community Solar Garden will be the first project of its kind in Canada when it is completed in late November 2016.

The brainchild of Carmen Proctor, a contractor with the City of Nelson, the solar garden is being built near the Bonnington Generation Station, the Nelson Hydro facility owned by the city. This site is accessible, near power poles and is city-owned land.

“What makes it unique from other shared solar projects is that the generation for the solar will be returned via credit on one’s electricity bill through Nelson Hydro,” said Proctor. It helped that the city already had net metering in place.

Proctor learned of the community solar garden concept at a Northwest Public Power Association conference in Oregon. Instead of individuals buying solar panels for their own rooftops, they buy a portion of the solar generation at a centralized facility.

As the co-ordinator of the EcoSave Program, Proctor brought the idea back to Nelson, presenting the idea to city council in June of 2015. The idea was well received by a city that is already unique in having its own municipal electric utility.

Carmen Proctor is standing in front of the construction site for the solar garden.

Carmen Proctor is the spark behind the Nelson Community Solar Garden, which will be up and running by late November. — Photo courtesy Carmen Proctor

Based on historical data and on data from solar monitoring at nearby locations from June 2014 to September 2015, the sunny Kootenay plot will yield a solar garden that will produce approximately 75 kilowatts of power per year from 250 solar panels.

Looking at a solar map of Canada, Proctor said that eastern British Columbia is a hotspot for solar energy.

The pre-sale kick-off event on November 17, 2015 was a sunny success as Nelson Hydro customers lined up to invest in the solar project with a 25-year contract.

“During the four-week pre-sale period, there were over 200 panels sold, so we decided to make 240 available,” said Proctor, “and we only have three left.”

Pre-sales thus exceeded the needed 75 per cent of panels sold for the project to get the “green” light. The projected cost of the panels will be $923 or less, depending on final project costs.

The solar garden was awarded two grants from Bullfrog Power, a social enterprise company that helps businesses and individuals shift to green energy. First, the project received $15,000 for research and development, followed by $20,000 for actual costs.

Nelson Hydro is projecting a return on investment in 12 to 15 years and has committed $25,000 to the project plus $2,000 per year in maintenance costs. The cost to ratepayers who did not invest in a solar panel will be low, approximately 30 cents per year for 25 years.

Macleod Nine Consultants Ltd., geotechnial and structural engineers based in Nelson, provided the engineering services for the solar garden project.

Valhalla Timberwrights of Rossland, B.C., is building the storage racks out of cedar and installing them. Nelson Hydro will install the solar panels on the racks and connect the system to the grid.

According to Proctor, the 300-watt panels were purchased from Trina Solar because of the company’s high rating on the Solar Scorecard for producing quality products and taking life cycle responsibility for those products.

At times, Proctor thought the city should hire a professional solar developer to implement the project, but she received much support from city hall to continue onward. She finally accepted the fact that “I am the solar developer.”

The city has had many inquiries about the solar garden from other communities, mainly from B.C. but also from ones all across Canada. “People are loving the concept of it,” Proctor said.

The project should commence operation by the end of November. “I am both excited and nervous,” Proctor said. “Every day I’m learning something new.”

Virginia Rasch

Virginia is a writer and copy editor with Koocanusa Publications. She is an avid outdoor recreationist in all seasons and has lived in the Kootenays for 10 years. With degrees in the natural sciences, she has worked as a tour guide, an environmentalist, a writer, and a copy editor of scientific publications. Virginia now brings her passion for everything green to Kootenay Business. View all of Virginia Rasch’s articles

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