'Projecting the future' at first net-zero drive-in in Canada

·3 min read

BRACKLEY, P.E.I. — P.E.I.’s historic drive-in has taken bright steps towards the future by going solar.

The Brackley Drive-In Theatre has provided P.E.I. residents and visitors with summer entertainment for almost 70 years. This year, solar panels are being installed to ensure the tradition may continue for years to come.

The drive-in will be the first solar-powered drive-in in Canada – possibly the world, said owner Bob Boyle during an interview with SaltWire Network last month.

“We wanted to see how could we scale the drive-in so it can operate no matter what the situation,” said Boyle. “I wanted it to be a trailblazer for the tourism industry.”

The idea started last fall after a second year of slow tourism due to COVID-19. Boyle began doing research into solar technology and realized the drive-in was in a prime location to install solar panels.

The back of the screen was facing south – an ideal placement for panels.

“We were quite fortunate that our screen lines up perfectly with where you’d want to put a solar bank. It’s kind of like a dream." - Bob Boyle

The project was only possible because of the Tourism Recovery Fund, which provided about 40 per cent of the cost. Otherwise, it would have been too costly.

Boyle applied for the solar provincial rebate program, but it only accounted for about $10,000 of the project, which cost about $110,000 from start to finish.

The solar rebate the province offers for commercial businesses is not high enough to make a return on the investment for smaller operators, said Boyle.

Commercial rebates are considerably lower, with $1,000 per kilowatt covered versus $350 dollars per kilowatt for residential rebates.

“Without the (Tourism Recovery) fund, this project would not be possible. Without that, we were looking at a 12- to 15-year payback, whereas most homeowners with the rebates that they receive get a five- to seven-year payback,” he said.

The solution is for future solar rebate programs to offer more support for businesses – otherwise there is no incentive.

“Many P.E.I. operators haven’t gone down the solar route. I think the reason is the barriers on the incentives to have power on their property is too high to get past.”

Boyle said he hopes throughout this process, businesses focused on tourism can get on board, and the provincial and federal government can come up with programs to target these operators and get them involved in getting to net-zero emissions.

“If we’re really truly serious about getting P.E.I. to net-zero, that’s the puzzle.”

Hansen Electric was hired for the installation since it mostly works with commercial businesses to install solar panels.

“I think this is great. When (Boyle) brought this idea to us, we thought that it was a cool project, so we got together and came up with the plan,” said Sean Callaghan, general manager and co-owner of Hansen Electric.

It took about six months to install the 50 panels on the back of the screen. Panels were also placed on the roof of the neighbouring hotel, which is being converted to solar energy. Because they are a seasonal business, the panels can generate enough power to sustain the drive-in into next year.

When the project is completed, the drive-in will be 90 per cent off-grid on the power it is using, said Callaghan.

“The way grid tie works is your credit’s role for that annual year and into next October. The drive-in is only seasonal, so we’re at a 90 per cent offset,” he said.

Hansen Electric is currently in the process of setting the transformers to match the grid. The work is expected to be finished in the next few weeks.

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian