Alberni ponders solar energy for city buildings

The city of Port Alberni is looking into placing solar panels on city buildings.

Council agreed on Monday, Jan. 8 to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the supply and installation of solar panels on one or more city-owned facilities.

The city has $100,000 set aside in a Carbon Reserve Fund for such a project. The Carbon Reserve Fund, explained facilities supervisor Mark Zenko, is meant to be spent in ways that reduce the greenhouse gas effect.

“There’s a couple reasons that one might want to get into alternative power generation,” said Zenko. “One is sustainability, and then there’s cost-savings.”

There are several ways of generating power (hydro, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal wave, etc.), but an investigation by Zenko and consultant Scot Merriam of SRM Projects Ltd. determined that solar is the only option at this time that is commercially viable and cost-effective.

Both Zenko and Scot Merriam of SRM Projects Ltd. were in council chambers last Monday to present information about alternative energy and to come to a consensus on the city’s expectations for alternative power generation.

“There has been some criticism that Port Alberni doesn’t get the sun that we need to do solar,” said Zenko. “That’s simply not the case. Port Alberni does get a reasonable amount of sun and it can be commercially viable to produce solar generation. Turns out that we get 15 percent more than Germany, where solar is big.”

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A number of buildings in the city, he added, are also well set up with the capacity to hold solar panels.

“About 25 percent of the Island’s power is generated on the island,” added Zenko. “So if we were ever to lose the connection to the mainland, we’re basically sitting high and dry out here. It would be nice to increase the capacity that is generated on the island and do our part in that.”

Zenko produced a report that had a number of suggestions for the city, including an option to suspend plans to issue an RFP and commission a Community Energy and Emissions Plan instead.

Mayor Mike Ruttan said he knows of a number of companies that are interested in partnering with the city in providing solar power. “For me, the point of issuing an RFP would be to basically see who’s out there and what they may be proposing for us that we can look at,” he said. “I do see it as an opportunity for us as a city to move in this particular direction.”

Councillor Ron Paulson expressed concern that solar power is inefficient in its generation, given the size of solar panels and the amount of power they generate. He wondered if technology would improve if the city waited a few more years.

Merriam replied that technology for solar modules today is approaching 20 percent efficiency, which is up from 15 percent, and costs are expected to go down until around 2022.

“It’s actually a very good time to get in on that technology,” he said.

As far as future technology is concerned, Merriam said that other possibilities are untested at this time. “We’re not really sure where some of these newer technologies are going to go,” he said. “The solar modules that are being produced right now are…a very safe bet for a long-term asset.”

In 2016, the city commissioned a report from Viridian Energy Co. to outline solar generation options for city-owned facilities. The Viridian Report has already looked at each city facility from a solar perspective.

Viridian installed a small solar panel system at the Bainbridge Water Treatment Plant in 2016 to offset power usage and test the technology.

A Community Energy Report, said Zenko, would probably come up with a lot of the same results that they already have. “Solar still is the [option] that’s the most proven at this point,” he said. “It’s the one with the cheapest startup and it’s the one you can implement now.

Council eventually agreed to issue an RFP for the supply and installation of solar PV arrays on one or more city-owned facilities, limiting the cost to what is available in the Carbon Fund.

“We want to see what’s out there,” said Ruttan. “I’d hate to see us lose an opportunity to get some additional benefit for the city both in the short term and the long term.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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