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Sunrise on solar garden project delayed by equipment snag

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
July 19th, 2016

The sun won’t be rising as early as predicted on the city’s solar garden project after the groundbreaking foray encountered a recent equipment issue.

Nelson Hydro’s general manager, Alex Love, told council Monday that the Community Solar Garden Project was well underway — with major equipment purchased and the site cleared — when an issue with the “racking was encountered,” but it should be solved soon.

“This will cost a delay in time and the project is still expected to come in on budget,” he said in his presentation to council.

Love said at the beginning of this year much of the needed equipment was purchased — panels, micro-inverters and monitoring equipment — and eventually received, paving the way for the start of construction of the solar panel field.

The city’s Bonnington Generating Station lands were chosen as the solar garden site, where Nelson Hydro currently generates hydro electricity. The site did not pose acquisition challenges and was predicted to easily accommodate the larger array expected (240 panels), with up to a 100-kilowatt array possible.

Although the location contained three potential sites for building the solar array, the first site chosen ended up having a water line that went through it making it unusable, said Love.

“An alternate site was chosen and is now ready for the next stage, which is the racking for the solar panels,” he said in his report to council.

When a racking design and scope of work was sent out for bid in May, pricing came in over budget for the supply and installation of racking, so the racking was re-designed and the package is currently being prepared for another bid process, Love told council.

The remaining work on the project is the installation of racking, panels, micro-inverters, and the grid connection. Final invoices will be sent out near project completion, Love explained, which is estimated for late fall, despite the setback.

“And a grand opening event will be planned,” he said.

Sun shines on the community

The buy-in portion of the project has been very successful, Love told council, and it has generated a real sense of community.

“The investors include residents, businesses, co-ops, churches and schools,” he said. After the pre-sale phase it was decided that the size of the project would be increased from the minimum 50 kilowatt’s of energy to 60 kW’s, this was determined by the number of panels that were invested in at the end of the four week pre-sale phase.

The total number of panels that were available for investment was 240, and there are only four remaining for sale.

“Other communities continue to express a strong interest in this project and some are working towards doing something similar, the areas include Salt Spring Island, Port Alberni, Penticton, Peachland, Summerland, Saskatoon and Grand Forks,” said Love.

The numbers are in

Love delivered an updated budget on the project.

The project costs — equipment and installation — for the 60 kW project are expected to be $238,389, up almost $27,000 from the forecast budget for the 50 kW array.

However, program development, structural and civil engineering, and electrical engineering design and solar analysis add over $60,000 to the cost, bumping the budget to $301,628.

Funding sources for the project include a $35,000 contribution from Bull Frog Power, $25,000 from Nelson Hydro and customer buy-in of $221,628 (240 panels at $923.45 each).

In addition, a funding grant for $20,000 was added to the contributions.

“It is a requirement in the agreement for this funding that an official announcement will be made public in the coming weeks, and until that time the source of this funding is to be kept confidential,” said Love.

Solar for everyone

In the community solar garden — a centralized solar panel array installation — people can choose to subscribe to a portion of the solar array and receive a credit on their utility bill in proportion to investment, doing their part for the environment by using green energy.

The type of project Nelson hydro is undertaking makes solar accessible to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access it such as: renters; those with unsuitable rooftops; and those who cannot afford an installation on their own.

The credit would be measured in kilowatt hours, based on the current electricity rate, so the value of the credit will increase as the rate goes up.

Twenty-five year contracts would be set up for customers to receive a solar credit on their Nelson Hydro bill on an annual basis in proportion to their investment.

The solar credit would be measured in kilowatt hours for the energy produced.

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