Nelson Hydro is planning a solar energy project that would consist of an “array” of solar panels on which residents could rent space for a 25-year period and be credited on their Nelson Hydro bill.
“This could put Nelson on the map for showing strong leadership for building a sustainable community,” says Carmen Proctor, Nelson’s energy retrofits coordinator who presented a report on the project (attached below) to city council on June 15. She says Nelson is well-placed for such a project because the city owns its own energy utility, Nelson Hydro.
‘This model keeps it simple,” she told the Star. “You as a customer would be buying the solar generation from those panels, not buying the panels themselves.”
The panels would be set up all on one location and could range in size from 50kW-90kW. Although the city is considering a number of sites, Proctor says the most likely would be an area near Nelson Hydro’s Bonnington generating station.
“It has the sun, it has easy access, it’s close to power poles, and it already belongs to the city,” says Proctor.
The array would require a piece of flat, unshaded land with dimensions of 40m x 40m (1,600 sq. m.) for a 50 kW array and a 40m x 90m area (3,600 sq. m.) for a 90 kW array.
The buy-in model
Customers would pay an expected cost of about $1000 per panel on a 25 year contract and could either pay upfront or apply for a payment plan option under which one panel would cost about $3.47 per month. The solar credit would be based on the current Nelson Hydro electricity rate, and would go up as the rate increases. Customers would be credited on their Nelson Hydro bill in accordance with the amount of their investment.
The solar installation would feed into the Nelson Hydro grid and would become part of Nelson Hydro’s capital assets.
Proctor says this model is becoming very popular in the U.S. but would be the first in Canada. She says she is sometimes asked if the system would be the same as the well-known solar project in Kimberley.
“It is very different,” she says. “They sell the energy back into the grid. It benefits the community as a whole, but it does not lend itself to community members participating.”
Is there enough sun in Nelson?
Proctor’s report to Nelson council states that, “The data from the solar sensors that were installed in this area and the simulated energy production estimates show that there is enough solar potential in Nelson, and the return on investment is in line with similar solar projects in the US and here in Canada. According to the solar map of Canada, the Kootenays shows that there is more sunshine here than in Germany.
“Solar costs have gone down dramatically over the past few years,” the report continues, “and combined with adequate sunshine, a project such as this is now feasible whereas it would not have been a couple of years ago.”
How to sign up
Proctor says the city and Nelson Hydro are ready to go ahead once they have pre-sold 75 per cent of the panels on a first come first served basis, and once city council has approved the project through a bylaw amendment. The first opportunity to commit to purchase will be at an information meeting to be held in the late summer. Proctor says she already has a list of more than 200 interested people and she says residents can add themselves to the list by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benefits to the community and the customer
Proctor’s report lists a number of ways in which the project would benefit the community, including creating leadership in the development of renewable energy, giving access to solar for those who don’t have a suitable roof or can’t afford to install their own system or are renters, and gaining the knowledge and experience to share with other communities.
And it lists says the project could benefit customers directly through the simplicity of not having to research solar panels, deal with contractors, or worry about building permits and zoning.
How much would it cost the city?
Proctor’s report estimates that the project will cost $293,514.00 for a 50kW array and $450,000 for 90kW, and that revenues from customer buy-in would cover about two-thirds of that.
Details of those costs, as well as on technology and the rationale for the project can be found in Proctor’s report, attached below.