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SLRD solar project takes the lead on efficiency

Project one of seven chosen for first year of provincial program

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The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) is taking the lead on energy efficiency.

The SLRD was recently chosen as one of seven communities to take part in the first round of the province's Community Energy Leadership Program (CELP), which aims to support local governments in investing in clean energy projects.

Three small-scale, grid-tied photovoltaic solar arrays are now in the works near Gold Bridge in the SLRD's electoral Area A.

"I'm thrilled," said SLRD Area A director Debbie Demare, adding that she feels the projects fit nicely with the area's tradition of mining and energy.

"From our perspective, we saw branching off into solar energy or alternative energy generation as just kind of fitting in our community," she said.

The installations will be located at the Gold Bridge Transfer Station, the Gold Bridge Community Complex and the Haylmore Heritage Site.

According to the SLRD, the three installations will deliver between 17,300 and 20,200-kilowatt hours of electricity per year, reducing consumption from the grid and offering modest cost savings.

"This really is a leadership move, because none of the SLRD services elsewhere have any solar energy," Demare said.

"So we're going to be the guinea pig to see, really, what is the rate of return? How soon or how often do you have to replace or repair the asset? What does that cost?

"Over time our whole SLRD system will be able to take a look at this."

And while the solar installations won't transform energy production in the SLRD overnight, Demare said the shift in the proverbial tide has to start somewhere.

"Even though we're not at the point yet where these solar installations are really low-priced, I think that we're moving in that direction," she said. "I think we need to be learning and looking at all sorts of alternative energy sources."

SLRD board chair Jack Crompton said the board saw a short presentation on the project at its last meeting Oct. 28.

"It's a pretty exciting project," Crompton said. "The grant that was received was related to energy leadership, and I think it's cool to see a rural area like Area A being a community that leads towards alternative energy sources.

"(Demare) has been very engaged in the process and deserves a lot of credit."

In fact, the project began even before the CELP funding came along, when Demare and the Bridge River Community Valley Association were exploring a means to provide solar power to the community's Haylmore Heritage site.

According to the SLRD, the Haylmore Heritage site serves as a summer tourism information booth, visitor attraction and artisan store, and is the location of the original house and mine recording office of Will Haylmore, one of the original surveyors in the Bridge River Valley.

"We started to explore the concept of putting solar power in, and as we explored that we determined that the best option would be to have a grid-tied solar system there, where we're offsetting our power use and probably generating a little bit of revenue at that site," Demare said.

"When the opportunity came along to apply for funding we were already half of the way there, so it's great."

The SLRD received $24,743 from the CELP to pursue the project.

Over the next three years, the provincial government will direct $1.3 million to similar projects under the CELP.

Other projects getting funding this year include an $80,000 biomass-heating project for the Salteau First Nation, $45,000 for the City of Kelowna to retrofit its arena, $30,855 for a solar project in Kamloops and $21,780 for an energy efficient boiler retrofit project in the Capital Regional District.

Also on this year's list are $20,000 for an arena energy efficiency retrofit in the Nanaimo Regional District and $20,000 for an energy efficient boiler retrofit and LED lighting in Coquitlam.

This year's projects were chosen based on responses to a request for expressions of interest that the government put out back in May.

To receive funding through the CELP, communities were required to self-fund and secure alternative sources of funding for 67 per cent of their project's cost.

The SLRD's application was made possible by a grant from the Federal Gas Tax Fund.

"Congratulations to the projects selected for our first round of funding under the Community Energy Leadership Program," provincial minister of energy and mines Bill Bennett said in a release. "With this funding we're helping local governments and First Nations move forward with some great projects that will reduce energy consumption, save money, lower greenhouse gas emissions and build partnerships in the clean energy sector."

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