N.B. Power plan to test solar-powered subdivision in Moncton fizzles

·4 min read
N.B. Power announced in 2020 it had partnered with Siemens Canada and developer Solaire Homes to test solar-powered neighbourhood in Moncton, though that's no longer happening.  (CBC News - image credit)
N.B. Power announced in 2020 it had partnered with Siemens Canada and developer Solaire Homes to test solar-powered neighbourhood in Moncton, though that's no longer happening. (CBC News - image credit)

A multimillion dollar plan by N.B. Power and Siemens Canada to install solar panels and other technology in 100 high-efficiency "near net zero" houses in Moncton has faded to black.

It's another setback for Moncton's plan to see the so-called Vision Lands developed.

"Unfortunately, the developer, Solaire Homes, was not able to construct enough homes for N.B. Power and Siemens to conduct the research we intended," Brent Staeben, the utility's Smart Grid Atlantic director, said in an email.

Staeben said the plan needed 50 homes occupied by the end of this year so the utility could get a year's worth of data by 2024. He said N.B. Power became aware in June the timeline could not be met.

City of Moncton
City of Moncton

It's the latest in a series of efforts to build homes marketed as eco-friendly that have not materialized in the Vision Lands, an area the city has wanted to see developed for decades.

The Vision Lands covers a largely undeveloped track of about 1,400 acres bounded by Mapleton Road, the Trans-Canada Highway, McLaughlin Road and Wheeler Boulevard.

Plan collapsed

The utility planned a self-sufficient neighbourhood focused on an area off McLaughlin west of Leopold F. Belliveau Drive.

Staeben attributed the collapse of the plan announced in 2020, called North Branch, to market conditions and pandemic-related supply problems experienced by the developer.

Moe Belliveau with Solaire Homes confirmed that and said in an email there are no current plans to develop the area.

Initial details of the plan emerged through an N.B. Power rate hearing in early 2020.

A contract between N.B. Power and Siemens Canada Ltd. in 2019 said the neighbourhood would operate as an experimental "micro-grid" the utility can study. Each home was to be outfitted with solar panels, storage batteries, electric vehicle chargers and various "smart" products, including thermostats, meters and water heaters — largely installed at N.B. Power's expense.

N.B. Power budgeted $10.9 million over three years in the neighbourhood for solar generation, power storage and distribution technology, an expense expected to be offset by federal funding. The first homes were expected to be constructed in 2020.

When the plan was officially announced in December 2020, the utility said a semi-detached would cost $270,000, while a single-family home would cost $400,000.

Another option considered

But by this spring, Staeben said the utility began exploring other options in Moncton, including working with a separate proposal called Eastgate Village off Elmwood Drive that recently went before city council.

A document from Eastgate includes the N.B. Power logo and "Smart Grid Atlantic," but Staeben said they are no longer involved in the project.

"It became apparent to us in the spring that neither developer would be able to deliver to us enough homes for research before our funding window would run out," Staeben said.

Instead, it will focus exclusively on research underway in Shediac involving more than 400 homeowners expected to be complete in 2024. It includes testing time-of-day electricity rates, which makes power more costly when demand is high.

Thrive Properties
Thrive Properties

Over the years there have been a series of plans outlined for the Vision Lands.

"It's been a major priority to try to get things going in this area," Bill Budd, the city's director of planning and development, said in February 2020. "So we're getting close to seeing some of this area open up."

His comments followed an announcement by Moncton-based Cordova Reality, now called Thrive Properties, that it had bought more land in the western portion of the Vision Lands off Mapleton.

City to review plan

Thrive's website features plans for a series of new streets, mixed-density housing, commercial space and a school. No specific plans have gone before city council or the planning advisory committee.

Plans for a 260-acre (105-hectare) sustainable neighbourhood in the east portion of the area, next to the University of Moncton campus, didn't take off. Only a few homes were built and the mortgage holder bought the property back during a mortgage sale in 2014.

The city is preparing to review its municipal plan starting next year, a document that sets development rules, and is updating a plan specific to the Vision Lands area.