Solar-powered curling, anyone? Or what about solar-powered sewage treatment?
Hudson’s Hope, the municipality that would be most affected by the Site C dam, is going solar with a blast.
“It’s starting to look like a real, honest to goodness twenty-first century solar community,” said Don Pettit of the Peace Energy Renewable Energy Cooperative, the business that recently installed 1,580 photovoltaic panels, giving Hudson’s Hope the largest municipal solar array in the province.
The panels — in more than a half-dozen locations, including on the rooftops of the public works shop, municipal building, curling rink, arena, and beside sewage treatment lagoons — will save an estimated $70,000 a year in hydro bills, according to Hudson’s Hope mayor Gwen Johansson.
“Over 30 years, that amounts to savings of more than two million dollars,” Johansson told DeSmog Canada. “If hydro rates go up the savings will be even greater.”
Johansson said Site C had nothing to do with the district’s decision to embrace solar, even though the project’s impacts on Hudson’s Hope will be extensive.
“It’s purely a financial decision,” she said. “It’s a pragmatic cost saving.”
Despite conservation efforts such as installing LED lights in the town arena and other district buildings, Johansson said Hudson Hope’s annual hydro bill climbed from $68,000 in 2000 to $172,000 in 2016.
The cost of electricity for buildings with solar panels will be reduced by an average 75 per cent, according to the mayor.
Site C’s Giant Footprint on Hudson’s Hope
Hudson’s Hope, one of the oldest European settlements in the province, overlooks a Peace River canyon more than 60 kilometres upstream from the Site C dam. Known as the gateway to the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams, as well as to globally significant dinosaur trackways, the district markets itself as the “Playground of the Peace.”
But it might have to find another slogan if B.C.’s NDP government opts to proceed with construction of the now estimated $10 billion Site C dam following an expedited independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, whose final report was released Wednesday.
The community of 1,000 people would lose 97 properties to the Site C reservoir and the relocation of a provincial highway for the dam. The reservoir would also engulf the town’s water intake, pumping station and treatment plant, and riverside trails that attract tourists and make the quaint and quiet town an attractive place to live.
All told, 670 hectares of land in the district of Hudson’s Hope would be lost to the relocation of a provincial highway for Site C and its reservoir, which would also flood heritage sites such as an old-time ferry landing and the Rocky Mountain Portage House, a fur trade fort site opposite the town that was established by explorer Simon Fraser.
To prevent additional homes and property from sloughing into the reservoir, BC Hydro plans to build a giant berm — up to fourteen metres high, seven metres wide and two and a half kilometres long — as part of what it calls the Hudson’s Hope “shoreline protection” plan.
BC Hydro has stated that the berm would have no visual impact on Hudson’s Hope, but the district disagrees. “The sheer size and scale of the Bern will permanently alter the visual appeal and prized valley views of the District for residents and tourists,” the district noted in its submission to the Joint Review Panel that examined Site C for the B.C. and federal governments.
Johansson said more than 1,000 additional hectares of land in the district would also be lost to a BC Hydro statutory right of way. The right of way leaves ownership of the land in private hands, but prohibits property owners from building permanent structures.
“Although landowners get to keep their land there are severe restrictions on what they can do,” Johansson explained. “It gives BC Hydro the right to inundate, erode, or cause the land to slough or slide or to put debris on it.”
Last year, BC Hydro signed a “Partnering Relationship Agreement” with Hudson’s Hope, awarding the district $1 million in compensation for Site C’s impacts and pledging to support the revitalization of a residential sub-division in the district, where it has already purchased at least 80 properties for Site C.
The District’s Conversion to Solar
Hudson’s Hope’s conversion to solar began with a successful $1.35 million application to the federal gas tax fund, which supports local infrastructure priorities.
Greg Dueck, a solar consultant for the energy coop, said the Peace region has ideal solar conditions despite its northerly location. “Our winters are long but we’ve got good sun…We have great summers with long days.”
The district applied to BC Hydro’s Net Metering program, which allows owners of solar installations to sell excess electricity to BC Hydro and to buy electricity when they need it.
One challenge the Hudson’s Hope project faced was BC Hydro’s cap on the amount of power it will allow from any single solar installation in the district. The cap is 100 kilowatts, and Hudson’s Hope planned to install about 500 kilowatts of capacity, said Dueck. “So we had to spread out the arrays.”
When the solar installation becomes fully operational by the end of the year, the Bullhead Mountain Curling Club building will produce 100 per cent of its electrical needs, while the district’s arena — often the biggest electricity guzzler for municipalities — will meet just over one-half of its energy demand through solar panels.
Dueck said the falling price of solar, combined with the longevity of the photovoltaic panels, make it an ideal choice for municipalities.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “[Municipalities] are just starting to wake up and say, ‘Wait a minute, we can do this.’ It will reduce their carbon footprint and it will save money every year. Once they put solar on it will pretty much run itself for a very long time. It’s just a really good long-term strategy.”
Elsewhere in the Peace region, Dawson Creek earned the title of “Canada’s First Solar City” in 2012 after it installed solar panels on most of its municipal buildings and embarked on other solar initiatives, such as requiring all new homes to be built “solar ready.”
Fort St. John, seven kilometers downstream from the Site C dam structure, was declared the “Solar Community of the Year” in 2010 after it introduced new policies to encourage solar installations. Among other initiatives, Fort St. John created development permit areas that encourage solar design. It also installed solar powered trash compactors, solar pedestrian signals, solar lighting at bus shelters, and solar hot water and solar air heating in some municipal buildings.
Johansson said the solar panels are a source of community pride and will contribute to long-term economic development. “We are thrilled by the benefits that come with our move to a clean energy future.”
Those benefits included summer jobs for seven Hudson’s Hope high school students, who were hired the coop’s joint venture partner, Moch Electric Ltd., to work on the installation.
The district of Hudson’s Hope, which has expressed concern about the impacts of Site C, has long called for a full independent review of Site C by the BCUC. The Union of B.C. Municipalities, representing the majority of people in the province, also passed a 2015 resolution calling for a BCUC review.
“It didn’t get the full review,” said Johansson, “but at least it’s had an expedited review.”
The B.C. government says it will make a final decision on Site C by the end of the year.
Image: District of Hudson's Hope solar array via Facebook