(L-R) Investors Kim Horrocks, Zane Khosoa, Julia Roberts of St. Saviour’s Church, Selkirk College’s Alison Lutz, former Nelson and District Credit Union CEO Doug Stoddart, Mayor Deb Kozak, EcoSave program co-ordinator Carmen Proctor, Nelson Hydro general manager Alex Love, Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, and Dave Borins of Bullfrog Power cut the ribbon at the new solar garden Saturday. Photo: Tyler Harper

Sun rises on Nelson’s solar garden

The community garden was unveiled Saturday near the Bonnington Generating Station

Kim Horrocks told her nine-year-old son Zane Khosoa she had the perfect gift for him — a solar panel.

Of course she was just kidding.

“I tried to pass it off as his Christmas gift but of course that didn’t fly,” she joked.

An appropriately scorching sun shone down on Horrocks and other cheerful, albeit sweaty, investors invited to the opening of Nelson’s community solar garden located near the Bonnington Generation Station on Saturday. The garden began operating last week, just two years after the project’s plan was first presented to city council.

Horrocks, who has lived in Nelson for about a decade, said she saw the garden as more than just a way of trimming down her hydro bill.

“It’s a community investment, and I think to make community happen you have to sometimes be willing to take a little bit of a financial investment to get the momentum going for projects like this,” she said.

EcoSave program co-ordinator Carmen Proctor pitched the idea of a solar garden to Nelson Hydro general manager Alex Love after coming upon the idea at a 2014 workshop in the United States.

Proctor said she was proud that the garden’s group of investors was diverse and included homeowners, School District 8, Selkirk College and businesses such as Kootenay Co-Op and the Nelson and District Credit Union.

“We could have banged on the door of big businesses like Walmart and said, ‘Can you make this a go by buying a 100 panels?’ But we didn’t have to do that, and I didn’t want to do that,” said Proctor.

“I really didn’t want this to be about me, I wanted it to be about the community … I can sell things. I’m a salesperson by heart. I didn’t want this to be that. I wanted it to only happen if the tribe spoke, so to speak.”

Proctor called the garden the first of its kind in Canada, in that no other garden offers investors a return on their bill as though the panel was on their home’s roof.

Residents were offered to rent space on the array for a 25-year period while receiving an annual credit on their bill. Hydro has promised a return on investment within 12-to-15 years.

Proctor said it will take about a month before users can check online to see how much electricity the garden is generating.

The garden features 248 panels, each costing $923 with 240 sold. Nelson Hydro had required 75 per cent of the then-50 kW array to be sold before construction could proceed. Once that happened, the array was increased to 60 kW.

Sjeng Derkx, a former Green Party candidate for Nelson-Creston, cheered from the crowd as the ceremony began. He said he didn’t think twice before investing in a panel for his home.

“I really believe in the project,” said Derkx. “I didn’t even look at the financials around it, to tell you the truth. I just thought it’s a great thing, it’s a community thing, it’s solar power. We need to diversify our energy supplies and I just want to put my money where my mouth is.”

 

Seven-year-old Maya Decker hides from the sun underneath one of the new solar panels. Photo: Tyler Harper

A crowd of investors, contractors and residents interested in the project endured hot weather to commemorate the solar garden. Photo: Tyler Harper