Nelson residents including Councillor Michael Dailly sign up to buy solar power at Nelson Hydro's pre-sale event.

Nelson solar garden over halfway to sales goal

Nelson Hydro says 92 of the required 150 units are spoken for.

Nelson Hydro’s solar garden project has sold 92 panels so far. According to project coordinator Carmen Proctor, 87 of these were sold at an open house last week that kicked off a month-long pre-sale period.

“When the doors opened there was a line-up at the cashier right away,” she said. “People were pretty excited that we were moving forward with it.”

If Nelson Hydro can sell 150 panels in its pre-sale period it will build a 200-panel 50kw solar array at its Bonnington generating site. Depending on the interest, the project may expand to 100kWs, which is about 400 panels.

Customers will not purchase the panels themselves but the electricity produced by them, which will then be credited back on the customer’s bill at the price of electricity each year for a return on investment over a 25-year contract.

The cost of the panels is still uncertain because of an outstanding grant application, which, if successful, will bring down the price to consumers. Proctor says that in any event the cost will not exceed $923 per panel. During the pre-sale period she is taking $500 deposits until the final cost is known.

Proctor says one of the most common questions at the open house was “Why doesn’t Nelson Hydro just generate more hydro electricity, since it is already green?”

“The answer,” she says, “is that the river is already fully subscribed. We cannot generate any more than we do. So doing a solar project adds local generation to our system. It is small scale to begin with, which is important to learn and gain experience from. It is likely that you will see more local renewable energy systems in the future, one being solar. Nelson Hydro is trying to be ahead of the curve, and the valuable experience from this project will be used to help guide us in the future.”

Proctor said people also asked if upgrading their home insulation would not be a better investment. She tells them it would, and that the EcoSave program, which she runs for Nelson Hydro, can help with that.

“We encourage people to do the right thing in their own home first, and then if you want to see renewable energy move forward, join this project. The cleanest and greenest energy is the energy that is not used.”

Proctor explained the choice of Nelson Hydro’s site at Bonnington is based on data collected from sensors on Elephant Mountain and at Lakeside since June 2014, and with a pathfinder measurement that is used to measure the effect of the horizon on the amount of sun available at a site, combined with long-term weather data from the Nelson airport.

Proctor said beyond a contribution by Nelson Hydro of $25,000 with an additional $2,000 per year for maintenance, the project is intended to be financially self-supporting and that if over time the project costs less than anticipated, the savings will be passed on to customers. “We will only charge people for what the project actually costs.”

Nelson Hydro provides updates on the progress of the project at nelson.ca/solar.

This article was amended on December 2 to change the third last paragraph, which incorrectly reported that there were sensors collecting data at the Bonnington site.