New solar panels will soon lighten the hydro bills and carbon output of four villages across Haida Gwaii.
Starting in September, crews will begin a $589,000 project to install rooftop, grid-tied solar panels on six public buildings across the islands.
The buildings include the Village of Queen Charlotte office and community Hall, the George Brown Rec Centre in Skidegate, the Multiplex gym in Port Clements, the Masset Airport terminal, and the Masset public works building on Burgess Road.
All together, the panels will produce about 172 kilowatts of clean electricity — enough to power between 30 to 60 homes.
“It’s a huge savings for everyone,” says Scott Fleenor, owner of Terratek Energy Solutions, which was recently awarded the contract after a public bid organized by the Village of Port Clements.
“When you compare that to offsetting diesel fuel — which is essentially what you guys are running off of a lot of the time —these systems in Haida Gwaii probably have a better payback than down here,” added Fleenor, speaking from the Vancouver area.
Fleenor has already done installations on Haida Gwaii, having put panels up on Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School in 2012, and a larger, 24 kW array on Gidgalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary last year.
So far, they have held up well against Haida Gwaii’s intense fall and winter storms.
“Everything’s watertight,” he said, noting that the systems are designed to last 30-plus years.
“The modules themselves are completely encased—aluminum frame, glass top—so there’s really nothing to degrade.”
While southern B.C. may get fewer cloudy days, it also gets way more pollen, a sticky problem that requires a regular spring cleaning.
“There are places down on the south coast where everything flowers at the same time and it’s basically snowing pollen.”
Kim Mushynsky, the chief administrative officer for the Village of Port Clements, said getting the solar panels has been “a bit of a longer story.”
In 2012, the four Haida Gwaii communities applied and won a B.C. grant to replace all their sodium vapour streetlights with new LEDs — a switch that would basically halve the cost of street-lighting.
But the project got snagged in red tape after the villages discovered BC Hydro actually owns the streetlights.
“Part of the reason was that we were too early — they were ready for LED streetlights yet,” said Mushynsky, adding that BC Hydro now has a large pilot project in Richmond, B.C., where several designs and colours of LED streetlights are being tested in a variety of traffic conditions.
Queen Charlotte, Skidegate, Port Clements and Masset will get to join a second round of that testing — six LED streetlights of varying designs and colours will soon be installed in each community, likely sometime this fall.
Before Terratek was awarded the panels contract, the company was separately hired to choose the best sites for the installations.
Fleenor said a flat roof and sound building are important factors, but obviously the top concern is shading.
That is something solar panel installers can now forecast for all seasons using a smartphone app that traces the profile of surrounding trees, land and buildings—an app that may also prove popular with islands green thumbs.
“I was at a new house the other day and they were avid gardeners,” said Fleenor, laughing.
“We mapped out their whole garden—it’s kinda out of my scope of work, but it definitely works that way.”