A foothills community reached an energy-saving milestone this summer in its efforts to create pollution-free power in its facilities.
The 77 solar panels on the roof of the Oilfields Regional Arena in Black Diamond produced more energy than the building needed to operate in July and the Town is inviting the community to celebrate. Instead of paying a bill to power the facility in July, it’s getting money back.
“It’s our first net-zero month,” said Les Quinton, the Town’s parks and recreation manager. “Over the summer months we had a total of 65 net zero days or equivalent.”
The Town’s July power bill was a credit of $115.70, compared to having to pay $445.12 the previous July, said Quinton.
“That’s a $500 difference,” he said. “We didn’t get as much production (as we had hoped). It was a very cloudy and rainy summer. We are hoping next year we might get a couple of months of net zero days.”
Since the installation of 42 solar panels on the arena in late 2013, a partnership with green energy provider Bullfrog Power, which paid half of the $60,000 cost, the facility reached its first net-zero energy day in April.
The first installation of solar panels took place in 2008 with 14 panels, where Alberta Municipal Solar Showcase paid all but $6,000. In 2011, 21 panels were installed, costing the Town $30,000.
The Town is celebrating the milestone with a public gathering and information session with Town officials and representatives from Bullfrog Power in attendance Sept. 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the arena’s Scott Seaman Sports Rink.
A lift will be on site to allow those in attendance to view the solar panels on the building’s roof.
Quinton said attendees will also learn about the building’s other energy-saving initiatives including LED lighting, low-flow toilets and motion sensors for the showers.
“It’s not just the solar that we’ve done that makes a lot of difference in the bills,” he said, adding the projects combined help reduce the overall use of natural resources.
Quinton expects the solar panels will produce about 19 megawatts of power this year, representing eight per cent of the facility’s total consumption.
“That’s 19 megawatt hours we are not paying for,” he said. “This year so far at the end of last month we’ve used almost 10 megawatt hours in the building and sold almost five back to the grid.”
In 2013, 243 megawatt hours of power was used, with ice in the arena for eight of those months. Quinton said that number was 265 megawatts when he first started working for the Town before the solar panels were installed and ice was in the arena for just seven months.
“We are keeping the ice in longer and using less power, water and gas,” he said. “We are still paying a little more than what we did because of increase in costs and distribution.”
Black Diamond mayor Sharlene Brown said she is proud of the community for its move toward alternative renewable energy and it’s time to celebrate.
“We look at our greenhouse gas emissions, we look at climate changes, we are on the forefront of change for small communities,” she said. “It’s great to be on the leading edge of things. We have great staff that make that happen.”
Money saved from energy-efficient measures goes to the Town’s reserve green fund to pay for future alternative and energy-saving measures, said Quinton. He said more than $8,000 is put into the fund each year.
“Our total alternative energy that we have produced from the arena since the first installation is 41 megawatt hours of power,” he said. “That’s equivalent to 29 metric tons of greenhouse gases.”
Quinton said energy produced from the first solar system installed on the arena almost paid for itself six years later, and more panels will be installed to help offset energy usage in higher usage months when the refrigeration system is operating.
“We are trying to reduce our consumption of natural resources – gas, water, electricity,” he said. “It cuts operating costs and also will keep with keeping our environment a little healthier for longer. We are not putting CO2 emissions back in the air for using solar.”