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Blog updates from Salt Spring Community Energy

A Field Guide to Community Solar In British Columbia


It’s easy to understand why BC communities love solar energy: it’s a local solution to our energy needs, keeps valuable energy dollars in the community, and creates much need employment when traditional areas of the economy are struggling. In the last couple of years there have been different styles of community projects -most take advantage of the excellent Net Metering program RS 1289 offered by BC Hydro. The following is an attempt to categorize, in a broad way, several models that have been used to get those panels installed and producing for the public’s benefit.

1. Municipal ownership: The first solar installation to qualify for BC Hydro’s Standing Offer Program was Kimberly’s Sun Mine, a 1MW installation built on a retired mine site in Southeastern BC. The project has the landbase to expand to 20MW which makes it a project to watch. Some great holistic thinking here as the project used the electrical infrastructure from the mine to connect to the grid. A solar array on your local firehall also fits this model. But not all communities are municipalities:  a good example of a non-municipal local project is T’Sou-ke Nation’s groundbreaking installation in 2009. Off-grid Lasqueti Island operates a solar based micro grid for it’s health clinic and school. The Solar Colwood program is another example of a local government getting behind solar –qualifying as a community effort, but with federal funding. While not government owned, Okanogan College has an impressive array showing just what can be done on a large roof. I think there is a solar parking canopy at The British Columbia Institute of Technology, but I’m unable to find the sources online just now.

2. Bulk purchases programs have taken place in the Cowichan Valley, Galiano, Saltspring Island and other communities like Squamish and the Sunshine Coast are rumored to be following suit. GabEnergy‘s model is like a bulk purchase, giving the consumer access to below retail pricing on equipment. There was a mention of the bulk purchase concept in a Net Metering paper called Clean Power at Home, by Suzuki Foundation as early as 1999.

3. Solar Scholarship: exemplified by the Solar Scholarship project on Saltspring Island, purely charitable projects have been developed at schools in the province, including a 105 panel installation getting soon to come online at Pender Island Elementary. The now defunct Solar for Schools program could fit this model, it included the financial support of the provincial government until the program was retired. Okanagan College in Kelowna doesn’t provide a scholarship with the electricity revenue, but it demonstrates one way rooftops in BC can be put to work.

4. Solar on Strata: Any commonly owned building; your clubhouse, a strata condominium, may be feasible if it on the residential conservation rate RS 1101 . While the first examples of this model were developed in the lower mainland by Vancouver Renewable Energy (VREC), a recent, and well documented, example in Victoria was developed by Bruce Mackenzie, a founder of the BCSEA.

5. Solar Shares: Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-operative, a worker owned co-op has developed Solshare an incorporated company offering class C2 investment shares in a leasing program available province wide. The host sites’ sign a lease agreement, paying a small premium for the solar electricity, but this is offset by lower electricity price increases in future years.

6. Solar Garden [also know as Community Net Metering]: recently fully funded by the customers of Nelson Hydro this project is the first of it’s kind in Canada. It will see the production from a managed solar installation credited to individual electricity accounts in proportion to the number of panels that customers have purchased. A minimum level of participation by the utility is needed to arrange the billing software.

7. Solar Co-op’s are rumored to exist in Ontario where there is a generous feed in tariff. Also known as a producers Co-op, there has been a lot of interest in this model, especially with BC Hydro’s new Micro-Standing Offer Program, which aims to reduce interconnection costs for community projects. Many folks are watching this development closely to see what kind of feasibility there is for a solar so-op, given the rates structures and other programs offered by BC Hydro. The Peace Energy Co-op got an early start with their involvement in the Bear Mountain wind development in the north east of the province. They are now providing professional solar installation. There are some worker’s co-ops notably Viridian energy on Vancouver Island, and VREC in Vancouver.

No doubt I’ve overlooked some excellent projects. As you can imagine each model has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Bulk purchase programs for example, can be a wild beast, driven by good intentions, some healthy ambition, and a steep learning curve. They can also be perfected – and give folks access to the technology. But many things are common to all. Solar installations need a quality host site to realize excellent production. They need to be away from the shade so the panels can do what they were made to do, turn light into electricity. Ownership and maintenance concerns need to be addressed. Would you like to own some panels in your neighbour sunny yard? What happens if you share their panels and then they decide to sell their property and move back east? It helps if the project economics work: price signals can make it easier to fund. Are regulatory issues to consider? Maybe what you really want is to start a utility. Well, not everyone is allowed: the electricity business is highly regulated so you’d better be a municipality or a regional district to go there. What about the electrical code? Not even red seal electricians understand much of what is written in those big rule books. And how about the engineering requirements for public buildings? Where do you start? Where will you get solid direction for your community dream project? Ah, community solar, a fine challenge, and not for the faint of heart! -Kjell Liem, CEG

We did it!

The Solar Scholarship project has now reached its funding goal!


And if you were in town last Saturday, you may have noticed large crates being lifted onto the GISS gym roof by Salt Spring Crane & Rigging. And if you guessed that these crates were full of solar panels, you would be right. We’re well on our way to the installation and implementation of the largest school-based solar photovoltaic array and the seventh-largest grid-tied solar installation in British Columbia!

It’s all thanks to you – a great community. Over 140 generous individuals, groups and businesses contributed during the campaign. Originally set at $60,000, we increased the fundraising goal to $63,000 once the technical team determined the gym roof could accommodate 84 panels – six more than originally planned. Businesses and service organizations that helped include Pharmasave, Windsor Plywood, Slegg Lumber, Mouat’s, Country Grocer, Thrifty’s, the Lions Club, the Mauro Family Foundation, the Saanich Gulf Islands Green Party, the local NDP Club, the 2014 GISS Reunion, the Only Planet Cabaret, the Gulf Islands Retired Teachers Association, the Salt Spring Trail and Nature Club, and the Raging Grannies. A well-deserved thank you to all!And we had some special help too. A matching fund created by Vince and Maggie Argiro doubled the value of donations made until Canada Day. Additional support was provided through the School District ‘s Carbon Neutral Capital Grant, the Salt Spring Foundation, and in-kind services provided by many professionals working on the project.With a total project cost of $106,000, additional funding came from a $20K matching grant from Bullfrog Power. Through their Bullfrog Builds Renewable Accelerator Program, they provide critical financial support for the development of new renewable energy projects across Canada.And hoisting the crates up onto the gym roof last Saturday would not have gone so smoothly were it not for the shipping and handling expertise of Ken Marr at Windsor Plywood.The next few weeks will see the panels installed with a monitoring system that will allow everyone to see how much energy the panels are producing in real-time. All will be revealed at our public launch scheduled for January 10th.

November Update

Have you driven by the GISS lately? Look over and you will see solar panels! 

Panel installation has started on the GISS gym roof. So far we have 38 panels in place, enough to generate over 9 kilowatts out of the planned 21 kW total. These panels are designed for rugged environments with minimal maintenance. Below we have Kjell Liem, Ron Watts and Will Andrews taking a breather from installing.


The SD64 school engineering team have also been hard at work installing the conduits and wiring to connect the solar array to the hydro grid: big thanks to Lane, Bud, Graham, and Tom for such great work.

In fact, so much progress has been made that we have planned the public launch for January 10th, 2015. Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for ‘the Big Switch’.

December Update

The array is now complete, the electrical inspection done and BCHydro has given us the permit to connect the system up to the grid. So we are on-line as of 17th December and supplying power to the school with any surplus being fed into the Salt Spring mains.  We are on the monitoring system so that the output will be viewable on the internet. We will post a message here when that happens.

Thanks and congratulations to all who made this community effort possible, we are planning a public launch event “Flick the Switch” on January 10th at the GISS multi-purpose room, all are invited.

Update Feb, 2014

Salt Spring Community Energy Group is very active these days. One member said recently that one has to keep one’s “eye on the ball”. Things are moving quickly.

Solar Scholarship

As you might know our first major project is the GISS Solar Scholarship. An interim agreement was signed on Jan 27th with School District 64 (Gulf Islands) covering the aspects of the project presented to the Board of Education Dec 4th.

Continue reading Update Feb, 2014

Roof Survey Jan 10th, 2014


Will Andrews PEng, and Simon Wheeler MSC of the Community Energy Group read a shade analysis tool during a survey of the GISS Gym roof. This will provide information as to how much sunlight the Solar Scholarship PV array will receive throughout the calendar year.

Photo: Ron Watts

CamoSun Solar Hot Water at the 2013 Eco Home Tour

Although we haven’t been in touch for a while there has been much work going on behind the scenes:

On the Solar Hot Water front the good news is that there are now grants available for up to one third of the cost of equipment and installation for approved systems, potentially bringing the cost down to below $4000.  If you are interested in the idea please try and get to the Eco home demonstration on August 11thMore information below.

James Smythe - Camosun solar hot water system
James Smyth showing solar hot water panels at Camosun College

We are expecting BC Hydro’s long awaited strategy report to be published this month. This is expected to give clearer information on how they plan the net metering scheme for photovoltaics (PV) and other renewable energy sources to work over the coming years.  We are also investigating the economics of “PV for EV”, that is installing domestic level photovoltaics to provide power for home charging of electric vehicles.  There is certainly interest in this from one housing scheme on the island which is considering coupling the idea to a car share plan.

Continue reading CamoSun Solar Hot Water at the 2013 Eco Home Tour