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Council wants solar project to get the most out of Summerland's sunshine

Cartwright Mountain in Summerland is the proposed site for a solar power and battery project.

A solar energy project in Summerland will allow the community to reduce the amount of energy from the electrical grid consumed during peak hours by storing power to use later.  

The plan is in motion thanks to a large federal grant and new innovations in renewable energy. Technology has developed enough to make it feasible to store renewable energy in batteries. Otherwise electricity has to be consumed when it’s generated or sold immediately to a utility company.

By having the ability to store solar energy, the District of Summerland will be able to reduce the amount of electricity it purchases from Fortis B.C. during peak hours.

“It is an indication of the commitment of council and the people of Summerland who want to take action on the changing climate,” Mayor Toni Boot said.

The original plan is to have the project built on the toe of Cartwright Mountain near Prairie Valley Road. The site would contain enough panels to generate electricity for roughly 100 homes, but rather than supply power to private residences, that energy could be directed to municipal facilities or care homes for seniors in the event of a power outage.

READ MORE: Kamloops couple hopes massive solar power system inspires others to find alternative energy

However, due to rising costs, that vision for the project may have to be scaled back.

In 2019, council was told the full scope of the project could have been mostly funded by a $6 million grant that was earmarked for a solar energy project.

The project would have paid for itself in two to three years, according to one consulting firm in 2019. But costs have soared over the past two years and recent bids have come in at around $10 million, and a new consulting firm said it would now require 12 to 13 years to pay back the initial investment.

Council has decided to go back to the drawing board and see what can be purchased firmly within the limits of the $6 million grant.

A virtual projection of where the solar project is proposed to be built in Summerland.
A virtual projection of where the solar project is proposed to be built in Summerland.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/District of Summerland

They are now entertaining the idea of having numerous solar sites around town rather than one conglomerate.

But the site chosen has many advantages, Boot said. The panels, placed on a slope on the southern side of the mountain, would get lots of sunlight. The location collects less dust and debris and would require less maintenance compared to other areas that were studied. 

“The geography protects it more from wind disturbances,” said Boot.

Also, the site was formerly used for asphalt mixing and storage, and it can be remediated.

Another possibility is that this green energy project won’t even have solar panels. At the most recent council meeting, chief administrative officer Graham Statt said the district could reduce the cost by investing only in batteries. The batteries would still be used to offset consumption during peak hours, albeit energy would have to be purchased from Fortis.

Regardless of what comes out of the federal funding, Statt said the ability to secure such a large grant for a town of 10,000 is the result of good leadership from mayor and council.

But whether or not a battery-only model still qualifies for the $6 million grant would have to be figured out by district staff, Boot said.

READ MORE: Solar panels power up College’s Kelowna campus

The grant was applied for by the previous Summerland council. One stipulation is that the project must be completed by September 2023.

Boot said getting an extension is possible, but that request would face many layers of bureaucracy. She said one extension has already been approved due delays related to the pandemic.

Council will be given a new “menu of options” at the regular meeting on Dec. 13, Boot said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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