British Columbia

Remote B.C. school gets most of its power from $450K solar energy system

The district was paying about $78,000 a year for diesel fuel to power the school, which has 20 students of Chilcotin First Nations ancestry from kindergarten to grade 10. The fuel was also used to power a portable, three mobile homes for teachers and another building used as a health unit.

The district expect to save about $50K in fuel costs per year

The Cariboo-Chilcotin school district estimates it will save about $50,000 per year in fuel costs thanks to a new solar energy system set up at the Naghtaneqed Elementary-Jr Secondary. (Photo by Alex Telford)

A school in the Nemiah Valley, two-and-a-half hours southwest of Williams Lake, B.C. is trying to reduce its diesel consumption by getting most of its energy from solar panels.

The solar energy project at Naghtaneqed Elem-Jr Secondary in the Cariboo cost $450,000 but the district hopes to have it paid off in seven to eight years, said Alex Telford, manager of facilities for School District 27. 

"We've been discussing how to reduce and minimize energy consumption for quite a few years," he said.

The district was paying about $78,000 a year for diesel fuel to power the school, which has 20 students of Chilcotin First Nations ancestry from kindergarten to Grade 10, but a capacity for up to 75.

The fuel was also used to power a portable that houses a wood shop, three mobile homes for teachers and another building used as a health unit.

"So, there's quite a sizeable electrical draw out there," said Telford. 

Telford estimates that the school will get about 80 per cent of its power from the solar energy system that was installed. (Photo by Jason Jackson)

After a few years of considering the move to solar power, the school district hired solar energy installation company, Hakai Energy Solutions, to assess the benefits of installing solar panels. The results were positive and the district was able to receive funding for the entire project through the Ministry of Education's program for carbon neutral funding.

The district isn't entirely certain how much diesel the school was consuming each year, because it varies depending on the weather and the people at the school. However, it estimates the district will save around $50,000 per year on fuel costs.

The school will still use two diesel generators, one as backup, and one that is from the 1970s that was rebuilt to charge the new system's batteries through the darker winter months and the shoulder seasons.

"We're forecasting about 80 per cent to be running off of the solar system," Telford told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

Award-winning project

Earlier this month, the school district received a community improvement award from Clean Energy B.C. for the school's solar energy project.

"It was kind of a shock," said Telford.

"Our contractor had signed us up for it, which is wonderful. Kind of felt like a little fish in a big pond...But it's still very nice to be honoured by them."

Telford isn't sure if they will install solar panels at other schools because it is still expensive.

"The price still has probably got to come down a little more to compete with hydro," he said. 

However, they are going to look into other energy efficient solutions, such as using a biomass boiler system, which uses biological materials found in a forest, to create heat.

"So we do quite a few other things other than solar to save energy within our district."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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