Community solar garden could grow profits not plants for residents

A northeast Calgary neighbourhood has received a $194,000 grant to study the feasibility of building a community solar garden.

Renfrew Community Association has received a grant to study the idea

Paul Gill is hoping to bring a community solar garden to Renfrew.

A northeast Calgary neighbourhood has received a $194,000 grant to study the feasibility of building a community solar garden.

Much like a regular community garden, it would provide benefits for local residents. But they'd come in the form of power profits, not hearty greens.

"They have their own little piece of it and their own investment that they have over the life of the system," says Paul Gill, who first pitched the project to the Renfrew Community Association and applied for the grant. 

"We are kind of the guinea pig for this."

Gill is an electrical engineer and a big advocate for renewable energy. He has solar panels installed on his own home, which also uses geothermal power, and drives an electric car.

"It's always striving toward a sustainable future."

The solar garden could be built on a piece of vacant land, like this one, or on top of another building, like a carport. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The solar garden would be a large array, built either on vacant land or on top of another facility like a parking lot, and would be directly connected to the distribution grid. 

The grant comes from the Municipal Climate Change Action Committee, a partnership between the Government of Alberta, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and Rural Municipalities of Alberta. It's available thanks to the new small scale generation bill which came into effect in January. 

Canada's first community solar garden was built two years ago in Nelson, B.C., where community members had a chance to buy solar panels at an upfront cost, and then receive credits deducted from their energy bills.

There's also one in New Westminster, B.C., where subscriptions to receive discounts sold out in three weeks. 

Gill hopes the Renfrew project will attract about 150 community members, and power around that many homes.

David Barrett with the community association said they're anticipating strong interest in the project.

"I don't think it's going to be a hard sell. We've got a great community," he said.

The community association will be hosting a series of open houses to connect with residents over the project, before a location for it is chosen. The first one will be on June 26 from 5 to 9 p.m. at 811 Radford Road N.E.

With files from Helen Pike


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