Look to the sun to provide power needs

Winter has arrived. Central heaters hum almost full-time and lights are needed from mid afternoon. With a few exceptions, we can rely on our electrical needs to be available at the push of a button or flick of a switch. Do we know where our energy comes from? Do we care?

According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), the Ontario`s Long-Term Energy Plan up to 2030 indicates the distribution of energy production. The lion’s share will come from nuclear power (46 per cent), followed by hydro-electricity (20 per cent), wind (10 per cent), and natural gas (7 per cent). The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is set to add only 1.5 per cent of generation. It seems a miniscule slice of the energy-pie, yet the solar market has grown due to increased demand and reduced manufacturing cost.

In 2009 alone, the PV sector installed 62 megawatts-peak (MWp) in new capacity – a ninefold annual increase – and solar thermal (for hot water supply) grew 20 per cent.

Since many Beachers indeed care, there are several community solar projects underway and some exciting new developments, as mentioned briefly in my last column.

First out of the block was the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation (NUUC) on Hiawatha Road. Operational since September 2010, the 112 Sanyo PV (photovoltaic) modules from Canadian Solar Inc. have a capacity of 220 watts each for a total 25 kilowatt (kW).

Half of the $220,000 installation cost was covered by an interest-free loan through the City’s Live Green Toronto Capital Fund. The rest was raised through donations and sale of 110 debentures (i.e. debt securities representing borrowed funds that must be repaid) at $1000 each and 5 per cent annual interest. They sold like hotcakes! SolarVu software monitors the operation and energy output, which – through the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program from the Ontario Power Authority for renewable energy – earns them 71.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) generated.

The NUUC was a finalist at the City’s 2010 Green Toronto Awards for environmental excellence. Rick Salay, Chair – Greening Committee, 416-686-6809, office@nuuc.ca

Currently, the most active is the Beach Community Energy Co-Operative Inc. (BCEC), a cooperative of neighbours and local residents working on a solar project for the roof of Kew Beach Public School.

Initially, the school applied for an education fund for roof repairs and some solar. The parent council envisioned adding more panels and formed a Sustainability Committee. Today, Kew Beach school has 20kW of solar photovoltaic (energy-generating) panels. Two solar thermal panels supply energy for hot water. Their FIT contract earns them around 80 cents per kWh [Exact number not available]. The BCEC’s 50kW project will earn 44 cents per kWh, due to recent changes to the program and today’s lower manufacturing cost of solar panels.

The difference between the two installations on the school is that BCEC’s will operate as a cooperative and provide community investment opportunities to locals. Planning assistance comes from the Community Power Services Group (CPSG), who helped the group secure development-stage funding and has been retained as project manager.

The BCEC Board of seven has already proven perseverance and creativity, coming from their varied professions in, e.g. law, sustainability, communications, as well as architecture. They could use additional members, so do get in touch!

Teresa Miller, vice president of the Board, is positive and, “excited about the potential for community power and to control our own destiny.” She points out that, “Having local power can help avoid blackouts and provide more sustainability in our own neighbourhood.”

They face an urgent challenge. The FIT program was relaunched on December 14 with only a small window to secure a contract by the January 18 deadline. Anyone can become a member; homeowners and renters. For documentation purposes the application must include 50 members who own property in Toronto. The $10 membership fees will be used to cover operating costs. Once a contract has been secured, members will be able to buy solar shares. Making money locally makes sense. “With RSPCs you often don’t know where your money goes,” Teresa muses.

So the pressure is on and they need your help! They will host a membership drive on January 9 and 10, from 7-9pm, at the Beach Business Hub, 2181 Queen St. East, #301. “We need to get our ponies all in a row,” says Teresa with urgency.

Saddle up and come out to support this local initiative. For more details or to join them, contact Teresa Miller, teresamiller@gmail.com, and follow Facebook.com/BCECInc.

Another initiative is that of the Beach United Church (BUC) at their Wineva Avenue location. Their Green Team’s $180,000 project is fully funded by the church. They have retained local solar contractor Solsmart Inc. The 165 panel, 41kW solar system is projected to generate an annual $24,000 throughout the 20-year FIT contract. The BUC Co-op also plans to operate as a not-for-profit cooperative and offer $10 membership fees. Unlike the BCEC, they will not offer equity or investment shares. Visit Beachunitedchurch.com/2012/09/solar-co-op or contact Ron Fitton, 416-691-8082.

All these community-led projects have the common goal of seeking to reduce their ‘carbon footprint’ by generating renewable energy. Now we need many bright or sunny days. Shine on, Father Sun, shine on!

Martina Rowley is a local environmental communicator.

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