Burwash Landing and the Kluane First Nation are stepping deeper into the world of producing renewable energy, and there’s more to come.
The First Nation is expanding the array of photovoltaic solar panels it uses to power buildings while supplying surplus energy to the isolated grid that otherwise depends on diesel generation to keep the lights on in Burwash and Destruction Bay.
For 3 1/2 years, the building known locally as the Red Garage in Burwash Landing has had been fitted with a bank of panels capable of generating a modest 4.7 kilowatts.
It’s not much. It’s not going to power the community.
It does, however, produce more than the demand by the occasional use of the Red Garage.
When there’s no activity in the garage, when the lights are off and nobody’s home, the panels keep feeding the grid, slowly but surely, trickle by trickle, they keep feeding the grid, just like the little bunny with the big drum.
Anything extra directly displaces the need to burn diesel fuel, even if it’s just a drop or two at a time.
The $25,000 installation of the panels on the Red Garage will eventually pay for itself, over the long haul, quite a long haul. But they will pay for themselves, eventually.
Whitehorse energy consultant J.P. Pinard, the manager of the project for the Kluane First Nation, says because there is such a long return on investment, the the interest in renewable solar is not driven by financial gains.
More than anything, it’s about loosening the grips of dependency on diesel generation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he said in an interview this week.
Nonetheless, there is a return, and the Red Garage has already had a couple of cheques in the mail.
The Yukon government’s net-metering policy opened the door in February 2014 to parties interested in generating a portion of their own electricity and selling whatever was surplus back to the grid.
On the main grid, powered almost exclusively by renewable hydro, micro-generators are paid 21 cents a kilowatt hour for the same kilowatt hour residential consumers pay 13 cents for on their monthly bills, in recognition of what it would cost to generate that power without hydro.
But in isolated communities reliant on diesel, producers like the Red Garage are paid 30 cents a kilowatt hour in recognition of the greater gains related to displacing costlier diesel generation.
Using federal funding under the Build Canada Fund, the Yukon government is about to award a contract for the installation of another 42 kilowatts of solar capacity on three more Burwash Landing buildings owned by the Kluane First Nation: 15 kilowatts on the Jacquot Hall Recreational Centre; 15 on its administration building and 12 kilowatts on a four-plex housing unit.
A further five kilowatts proposed for the council chambers was ruled out after an engineer’s assessment determined the roof design could not handle the additional weight.
Five Whitehorse companies have bid on the contract, which must be substantially completed by March 31.
The high bid is $274,000, or $65,000 per kilowatt – $6.50 per watt. The low bid is $151,000, or $36,000 per kilowatt – $3.60 per watt.
Pinard says providing surplus renewable energy to an isolated grid is particularly satisfying because of the immediate impact of displacing diesel generation.
There are, however, limitations in the isolated communities as ATCO Electric Yukon has capped the allowance for micro-generators at approximately 50 kilowatts, for operational reasons, Pinard explains.
With the installation of another 42 kilowatts, he says, the Burwash-Destruction Bay grid is approaching the maximum permitted, though Pinard plans to look at how the 50-kilowatt ceiling might be raised.
The Kluane First Nation, he notes, is also moving forward this year with stage one of its wind farm as an independent power producer. It’s using a $1-million contribution from the Yukon government toward the estimated cost of $2.4 million.
Unlike the net-metering program, independent power producers would generate commercial quantities of electricity that they wholesale to the utilities for a negotiated price.
Shane Andre of the Energy Solutions Centre says since the net metering program opened the door to micro-generation two years ago this month, 23 applications have been approved, pretty much all solar, and another six are in the hopper.
Installations range in size between one and eight kilowatts, with an average of four kilowatts, though Old Crow has a bank of solar panels capable of generating 12 kilowatts.
While the payback periods are long, 25 years or so, Andre says, most installation companies are guaranteeing the work for 25 years, and there are very little in terms of maintenance and repair costs.
The Yukon government will reimburse 20 per cent of the cost of materials as an incentive, to a maximum of $5,000, he points out.
Once a year, the government will cut a cheque for the micro-generators, based on the total contribution to the grid as monitored by ATCO Electric and Yukon Energy.
Andre says having the ability to send surplus power back into the grid is a conservation tool in itself: the more a homeowner conserves, the greater the amount directed to the grid, and the higher the financial return.
And at this time of year in particular, every little bit counts, as the water stored by Yukon Energy to provide for generation through the winter months is usually running low by now, and the spring runoff hasn’t yet started, he says.
John Maissan is selling more power than he thought he would with the five kilowatts of solar generation fixed to roof of his Copper Ridge home. He didn’t get into it for the money, though.
Rather, as a frequent flyer with family living outside the country, the electrical engineer and longtime lobbyist for renewable energy saw the opportunity for solar generation as
an effective means of offsetting his and his wife’s carbon footprint.
He does readily acknowledge that it’s a bit of play toy too. Renewable energy, after all, is next to Maissan’s heart.
The system was installed at a cost of $21,250, excluding his labour.
It included the cost of a structural engineer’s assessment to determine what additional wind and snow loads the roof trusses would need to absorb.
Maissan’s design also allows him to manually adjust the angle of the panels once or twice a year to provide for maximum efficiency.
With a $3,300 rebate for materials, Maissan estimates his payback will be about 18 years, not counting satisfaction.
“We think of the solar system as part of the carbon offset for the carbon impact we have,” says Maissan.
While the summer months are naturally robust for solar generation, he says, the winter months still pack plenty of power.
He says he originally expected 50 per cent of the electricity generated would be consumed by the household and 50 per would be sold to the grid.
The first 18 months of operations have shown the split is more like 30 per cent household and 70 per cent grid, at 21 cents per kilowatt hour, Maissan says.