Nova Scotia

CBRM has light-bulb moment after thieves steal bus-shelter solar panel

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is ordering tamper-proof solar lighting for bus shelters after a panel was stolen last month.

Municipality ordering more solar-powered bus shelters, but this time seeking tamper-proof light sources

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is hoping to add to its stock of solar-powered bus shelters like this one in Whitney Pier, but is asking suppliers to make them theft-proof. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is looking to add more solar-powered bus shelters to its transit infrastructure, but this time it wants them to be theft-proof.

The municipality has several shelters with solar-powered lighting, but thieves made off with the solar panel from the roof of a shelter in Bridgeport last month.

CBRM would not provide anyone for an interview and spokesperson Christina Lamey declined to provide the number or location of existing solar-powered bus shelters.

Security at the shelters is "not something we want to bring attention to at this point," she said.

The municipality issued a tender last year for four of the shelters, but it's not clear how many were installed.

Staff issued another tender earlier this month for five more shelters, each with a bench, an ad panel and solar lighting, specifying that they "must include tamper-proof securing hardware for solar panels and lighting."

Police increase patrols

The tender was set to close on Oct. 28, but has since been extended to Nov. 4.

Cape Breton Regional Police were advised of the theft of a solar panel in September and were asked to provide extra patrols around the other shelters.

Police spokesperson Desiree Magnus said there have been no additional thefts and also declined to identify the number or location.

"It would be prudent to not specify the exact locations of these shelters, so as not to lead people to opportunity for theft of other solar panels," she said.

RCMP say they have received 19 complaints of solar panel theft across Nova Scotia over the last three years. That includes a set of four taken off a remote highway sign in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in September 2019.

Gord Wilkie runs a solar-power installation company and says having solar panels stolen is rare. (Submitted by Gord Wilkie)

Gord Wilkie, who runs a solar-power installation company and is an instructor in renewable energy at Nova Scotia Community College's Dartmouth campus, said he recently canvassed colleagues in the industry and all agree that having solar panels stolen is rare.

"For the most part, these panels are very well fastened to places that are not really accessible to the public," he said.

"You do get some vandalism in probably more remote, rural areas where they may get shot up, but typically theft is not a common problem at all."

Thieves stole the solar panel off the bus shelter in Bridgeport, but Wilkie says small panels like that sell for $500-700 each and do not contain precious metals. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Smaller panels, similar to those specified in the CBRM tender, sell for $500-700 each and do not contain precious metals, Wilkie said.

"The panels themselves are part of a system, so just stealing solar panels is not really going to get you much value and the price has come down so much that they're not worth that much money and you would need to add extra equipment to make them functional, so I think it's people stealing them that don't understand what they're stealing," he said.

Tamper-proof panels not difficult

Wilkie said he has installed solar panels on structures in two parks in Halifax and they have not been stolen.

He said tamper-proof installation is not difficult, using bolts that require a special wrench to remove them and mounting the panels in such a way that hides the fasteners from public view.

"Creative ways of attaching these panels in locations that are accessible to the public is the key in keeping people from being able to quickly and easily rip them off of roofs or dismantle them," Wilkie said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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