Southern Gulf Islands: A Solar Powerhouse!

Encouraged by earlier experiences with solar installations and by the obvious interest of fellow islanders, a few solar enthusiasts from the southern Gulf islands created a new cooperative – the Salish Sea Renewable Energy Cooperative, SSREC (pronounced Shrek!). We set out by presenting talks about solar energy and about our coop on five islands, expressing urgency to act on climate change mitigation and our hopes to organize a bulk-purchase of solar equipment and installation for the islands. We were amazed by the attendance – over 300 islanders came out to our presentations – and by the enthusiasm of the audiences for all things solar.

In record time, and after fielding hundreds of questions and doing almost a hundred solar assessments, this enthusiasm translated into a bulk purchase, the scale of which exceeded our wildest dreams. As of today, almost forty new residential solar projects have been installed on Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Saturna and Saltspring, totalling over 800 panels with a capacity exceeding 250 kW. On a community level, this is the second largest installation in BC (after the 500 kW installation in Hudson’s Hope) – preventing the release of almost 200 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and saving the owners a lot of money on their electricity bills for the next 35 years or more.

Considering the existing community installations around the Southern Gulf Islands (Primary School and Recycling Centre on Pender, High School on Saltspring, Community Centre on Mayne, etc.), it is pretty obvious that the Southern Gulf Islands are turning into a solar powerhouse. Even though our islands are not generally considered an ideal area for solar in BC, we do receive at least 20% more solar radiation than acknowledged solar powers like Germany or France!

Net Metering

All new solar installations on the islands are grid-tied and administered through BC Hydro’s Net Metering programme. Net metering – as done by BC Hydro – meters the flow of electricity from the client into the grid (solar production) and from the grid (consumption over and above the solar production) for a year. This means that during the summer months, when solar production usually exceeds domestic consumption, credit builds up in BC Hydro’s accounts (in kWh). These excess kWh are then used up during the winter months when solar production is low and domestic demands tend to be high. This arrangement also minimizes the amount a BC Hydro customer spends on tier 2 electricity, which has now reached almost 15 cents per kWh (including taxes and the ‘rider’).

Return on Investment

Solar panels are now warrantied to produce electricity reliably and with absolutely minimum maintenance for at least 25 years, with most estimates now exceeding 35 years. Best of all, installation of solar PV provides a highly acceptable return on the investment. The jury is out only on the actual numbers, but good estimates abound. Assuming a minimum service life of 25 y, the financial return on the investment in residential solar is already in the range of 4-7%, i.e. considerably better than current GIC rates. Good for the environment, good for the community and good for the finances – win-win-win!

Obviously, these numbers, based on 2018 electricity rates charged by BC Hydro, will increase further when the extended life expectancy of panels is taken into consideration. Also, every time the domestic electricity rates increase – and they will! – the financial returns on solar look more and more enticing.

Future Bulk-purchases

While we are still recovering from the whirlwind of the recent bulk-purchase, our inbox is already bulging with queries about our next bulk-purchase, and whether we are planning to organize other bulk-purchases, like heat-pumps or battery back-up systems for solar. We know that the time for action is now and the recent IPCC report has only confirmed that our communities are on the right path with all their enthusiasm about solar and their willingness to walk the talk.  

Breaking News!  SSREC has decided to coordinate another bulk buy of solar equipment and installation services in 2019.  Details haven’t been worked out yet, but interested parties should email SSRECinfo@gmail.com to express your interest.

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