LETTER: Costs of solar garden project are understated

A report on the Nelson solar garden presented to city council is inaccurate and misleading, Kevin LePape writes.

Letter-writer Kevin LePape has serious doubts about how much a community solar garden would cost.

Re: “Nelson’s proposed solar garden would be unique in Canada”

Let me shed the light of reality: the report on the Nelson solar garden presented to city council is inaccurate and misleading. It understates the true cost of the project by $50,000 to $200,000 or more which is shocking for something like this, a supposedly informed and professionally prepared document.

There are many projections and estimates in the report that fly in the face of actual fact but I will highlight the two most blatant: the cost cited for site preparation/foundations is $32,000 and for materials (panels, framing, inverters) $76,514. The dollar figures used are incorrect and the author(s) of the report should certainly have known this at the time of writing. These costs are taken from a consulting engineer’s report done for Nelson Hydro.

In that report the $32,000 is for pilings only and the engineer additionally states that: “The cost estimate is based on the equipment and assembly of the solar array only. The costs of site preparation and interconnection are not included in the cost estimate.”

I spoke with the engineer who informed me that site preparation could be anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 and it was not possible to realistically estimate without a proper study of the actual site. So it is incredible that this $32,000 ended up being quoted as including site preparation.

The pricing for the materials is taken from a quotation provided by a solar services company in August of last year. Since that time the federal government has levied duties of 174 to 268 per cent on solar panels being imported from China. And the aforementioned quotation is for Chinese panels.

The current cost of these panels has, depending on the specific manufacturer, nearly tripled so the required panels could not be purchased for anything close to the number provided for in the report. And everyone in solar in Canada knows this because now Canadian made panels are competitive. And everyone at the Oso Negro Solar Conversation Café knows this because during the question period I asked repeatedly about whether the project would use Chinese or Canadian panels.

I guess if Canadian-made office furniture wasn’t good enough for the RDCK it shouldn’t surprise us that Canadian-made solar panels aren’t good enough for Nelson Hydro!

More importantly, Chinese panels means that the carbon footprint created by the manufacturing (massive amounts of electricity which in China comes almost entirely from coal in addition to the toxic waste nightmare due to improper/lax regulation of the processing of the heavy metals incorporated) and transportation (do I need to explain how far away China is and how the panels get here?) means that it is impossible for the “solar garden” to ever in its lifetime generate enough clean power to offset the carbon cost. This “garden” will actually be an insult to the environment, a step, more like a stumble in the wrong direction.

It is one thing to ask people if, regardless of the cost and payback, they would like to buy into a project. It is another thing altogether to ask them while not telling them what it is really going to cost. So much for the light of day.

Kevin LePape, Rural Nelson


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