The Strathmore town hall solar project is proceeding, dependent on grant funding and after the establishment of a reserve to meet the eventual costs of decommissioning.
During its regular meeting on Feb. 17, Strathmore town council voted to approve a proposal to construct a solar power array on the rooftop of the new Strathmore Municipal Building. The 73.5-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system will be installed by SkyFire Energy Inc. at an estimated cost of about $120,000.
However, the decision was made dependent on the receipt of a grant from the Alberta Municipal Solar Program that, if received, will limit the town’s cost of the project to less than $70,000. The estimated program funding will be a $36,000 rebate ($0.75 per watt) plus a first-time applicant bonus of about $18,000 ($0.25 per watt). The cost will be sourced from unspent funds allocated to the town hall.
The decision comes after proposals for rooftop solar for the building have come to council before, with different project details and suppliers. Council voted to approve a solar panel array for the building on May 20, 2020, but this decision was deferred on Sept. 2, due to uncertainty of grant funding for the project. But then on Oct. 21, town council directed administration to again pursue the concept of installing solar panels on the building’s roof.
Given SkyFire’s new proposal and the availability of the grant funding, council decided the financials for the project now work. The project is projected to provide the town about $4,500 per year in savings, while reducing the building’s dependence on the electrical grid by about 55 per cent. The panels will require about $1,000 per year of maintenance, however.
Administration returned with this new proposal on Feb. 3, but council wanted answers to several inquiries before deciding, so the proposal was postponed to the following meeting, on Feb. 17.
One of the questions during the Feb. 3 meeting, raised by Councillor Tari Cockx, was whether the solar panel project would affect the view of residents of Lambert Village, located across Second Avenue from the new municipal building.
But as the top (third) floor at Lambert Village is below the roof level of the municipal building, residents there will not be able to see the panels or see any reflection from them, explained Ethan Wilson, the town’s infrastructure manager, during the Feb, 17 meeting. The panels are static, being arranged at an optimum angle for Strathmore, meaning there will be no noise as in some other systems.
There will be rooftop access to the solar panels, so the array can be maintained throughout the year, including the clearing of snow, as necessary. No changes are needed to the current roof layout to install the panels, said Wilson.
Another issue brought up during the Feb. 3 meeting, by Councillor Jason Montgomery, was the cost of recycling the panels at the end of their estimated 30-year lifespan. SkyFire will provide a full three-year warranty, alongside manufacturer and product warranties ranging between 10 and 25 years in duration.
There are currently options to recycle the panel materials, said Wilson. But the panels would still need to be removed from the building and disassembled at the end of their lifetime. However, there is indication the programs available now will be improved in 30 years, with the Alberta Recycling Management Authority starting a two-year pilot program for electronics recycling, including solar panels, he said.
But in response to this uncertainty, Montgomery requested the establishment of a reserve fund to pay for the ultimate removal and disposal of the solar array at the end of its lifetime.
“Something that’s been very important to me is just that whenever we embark on a new project or new idea, that we are looking down the road of what our future obligations are,” he said.
As part of the motion to approve the project, town council directed the creation of a restricted reserve fund for end-of-life disposal of the solar array, to which $1,500 will be allocated yearly. The motion to approve the project then passed unanimously.
Proceeding with the project is an achievement 10 years after the town hired a consulting firm to produce a report, called the Strathmore Community Sustainability Plan, identifying ways the town could be more sustainable, recounted Councillor Bob Sobol, during the Feb. 17 meeting. One of the recommendations was to establish a sustainability committee.
“They believe, as do I, that it is time for the town to take more aggressive steps regarding dealing with solar energy,” he said.
Other benefits of the project include reducing the building’s electrical bill, thereby insuring against rising power prices, it being an environmentally friendly project, and providing leadership in sustainability, said Sobol. “I support this project, which I see as a pilot, and encourage council to support our municipality’s first journey into clean, sustainable energy.”
Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times