Calgary

Calgary shared housing community now generates more power than it uses through solar panels

A Calgary cohousing co-operative is celebrating an important milestone in its history: finally going solar.

The shared housing community is one of the first in Canada to go solar

Solar panels now cover all of the community’s roofs, providing more electricity than the community needs. (Submitted by Lise Rajewicz)

A Calgary cohousing co-operative is celebrating an important milestone in its history: finally going solar.

The Prairie Sky Cohousing Co-operative, situated in Winston Heights in northeast Calgary, just turned 16 years old.

It consists of 18 townhouses facing into a common courtyard and community garden, creating a tight-knit and sustainable community.

The communal living space consists of a kitchen, dining room, lounge, children's play room, teen room, laundry, guest room, office, studio, workshop and storage.

The new solar project, which was 2½ years in the making, means the community now generates all of its energy needs, meeting one of its long-held guiding principles of environmental sustainability. 

"Having solar was always part of the dream," said one of the project's driving forces, Lise Rajewicz.

"But back then, it was very expensive for the community. But as costs have come down, we realized now was a chance to revisit this possibility," she said.

Lise Rajewicz is one of a group of neighbours who got together to make the project a reality at their shared housing co-operative in northeast Calgary. (Submitted by Lise Rajewicz)

Rajewicz got together with two neighbours to finally push the project forward, joining forces with Alberta's SkyFire Energy to carry out the installation.

"Although solar is a drop in the bucket to address climate change, we think it's a really important symbolic move to show it's important to take action no matter how big or small it might be," said Rajewicz.

Rajewicz says the project wasn't without its challenges.

"There was a complex metering system and that was a challenge to work through, but we were able to come through that. There was also the buy-in from the community," Rajewicz said.

She says they received a grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta, under the previous NDP government, to bring solar education workshops to their community to learn about the technical specifics of solar, along with the various social and environmental arguments for making the jump.

"That was the key piece," said Rajewicz. "It made us really sure."

The community received funding for months of solar workshops to learn more about the technology before moving ahead with its project, which took more than two years from start to finish. (Submitted by Lise Rajewicz)

"In the workshops, we discussed themes ranging from climate change to energy democracy and security, to environmental responsibility and our responsibility to the Calgary community as a whole," she said.

The completed project — which cost $210,000 — resulted in 100 kilowatts of solar panels being installed, with 302 panels fixed on top of all 18 roofs of the community.

It's producing 106 per cent of the community's yearly electricity needs, with the project running smoothly for the past four months.

"We're so proud of it and it's a really tangible reminder of what we accomplished together," Rajewicz said. 

"It shows what you can achieve when you place priority on caring for each other on this planet," she added.

Now the community is hoping to inspire and share the lessons learned with other co-operatives in Alberta and beyond.

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