Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

OFFSETTING CARBON FOOTPRINT – John Maissan didn’t install photovoltaic solar panels on his Copper Ridge home to make money. He did it as a means of offsetting his family’s carbon footprint, but there’s a cheque in the mail nonetheless.

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Photo by Aimee O'Connor

THE GARAGE THAT COULD – The Red Garage in Burwash Landing and its bank of solar panels on its roof continuously battle greenhouse gas emissions by generating renewable energy for the isolated grid otherwise dependent on diesel generation.

First Nation delves into renewable energy in earnest

Burwash Landing and the Kluane First Nation are stepping deeper into the world of producing renewable energy, and there’s more to come.

By Chuck Tobin on February 26, 2016

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.

Comments (16)

Up 1 Down 4

north_of_60 on Mar 3, 2016 at 3:50 pm

The notion that "over 95% of climate scientists agree ..." was debunked years ago. Here is just one example:


Up 2 Down 3

north_of_60 on Mar 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm

@LC "build a better world for our children and grandchildren. What are YOU doing for them?"

My lifestyle is 90+% renewable energy powered and has been for decades. My eco-footprint is 1/5th the North American average.
What are YOU doing?
Do you need to believe misinformation and greenwashed propaganda to do the right thing?

If you disagree with me or anyone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. I can defend my own words. I cannot defend someone else’s interpretation of some unidentified words of mine. If you think I’m posting the wrong data, please educate me and others by showing us the right data. Simply claiming I’m wrong doesn’t advance the discussion.

Up 5 Down 3

Lee Carruthers on Mar 3, 2016 at 9:40 am

"In fact, clean energy investment in China alone outpaced that in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France combined, BNEF found"


Up 5 Down 7

Lee Carruthers on Mar 3, 2016 at 9:34 am

Quite surprising to see all the naysayers on this comment forum. In case you haven't noticed, over 95% of climate scientists agree that we are screwing our children's future through our thoughtless over-use of fossil fuels.

Clean energy works and is working all over the world. It is unfortunate that Canada has fallen so far behind in this area, thanks to 10 years of blind faith in tar and fracked gas, all scraped from the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel.

People spouting nonsense about Chinese solar panels, eco-nuts' hobbies and simplistic statements about how they all oppose all mining forever does nothing useful for the dialogue we all need to have about energy.

The clean energy pioneers featured in the article are working hard and smart to build a better world for our children and grandchildren. What are YOU doing for them?

Up 11 Down 6

Salar on Mar 2, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Just more folks looking to make money.....the other side if you will. While n of 60 is vehement in his many posts, he should be given credit for seeing things for what they are.....Peter to Paul.....there are a lot of people on the planet, and they all need to make a living......as specialists.

Up 18 Down 10

north_of_60 on Mar 2, 2016 at 11:53 am

Cheap PV solar is as dirty or perhaps even dirtier than the oil sands.
It's not economically competitive to produce PV solar in North America. Panels 'made' here are assembled from components manufactured in Asia.
The labor costs in North America are prohibitively expensive and North American environmental regulations which keep our air, water and land from being heavily polluted don't exist in Asia, so nearly all of the PV production is over there where they can pollute and keep their production costs low. The electricity to run their PV solar factories comes from dirty coal and the factories dump pollution into the environment.
The same goes for their wind turbines.

Up 22 Down 9

north_of_60 on Mar 1, 2016 at 8:55 pm

The wood I burn to heat my house and the oil I burn to run my vehicle keeps fellow Canadians employed, puts a roof over their heads and food on their tables. Burning Canadian oil in my fuel-efficient, clean-emissions vehicle causes far less toxic pollution than the filthy coal that's burned in China to make those solar panels and wind turbines the eco-nuts would like us to buy.
Real Canadians help their neighbors and don't send their hard earned dollars to pollution-spewing foreign countries with horrible 'human rights'.

Up 18 Down 9

north_of_60 on Mar 1, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Nothing prevents someone from buying all the electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines they want. The problem is self-righteous eco-nuts who expect everyone else to pay for their hobbies.
Notice how they desperately try to label anyone who disagrees with them as 'working for the oil industry'.
Nope, we're just average Canadians working hard to 'make ends meet' while being personally responsible and not expecting others to pay for our hobbies.

'The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.' — Margaret Thatcher

Up 14 Down 13

ProScience Greenie on Mar 1, 2016 at 5:37 pm

Remember folks that it takes a few hard rock metal mines to make these solar panels and wind turbines. It is odd many that are the most vocal about getting off hydrocarbons are also the most vocal against any mining, especially in our own backyard.

Up 34 Down 12

Max Mack on Feb 29, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Bottom line . . . paying a premium for net-metering is going to cost the rest of us lowly consumers a pretty penny. Only the well-funded, technologically sophisticated or very determined can afford to build and maintain the equipment and processes needed to take advantage of net-metering.

The rest of us pay so the few can benefit.

Up 22 Down 59

Sally Wright on Feb 29, 2016 at 9:28 am

North of Sixty, do you work for that company? If so, then I understand your unease with solar.
It is your oil industry that John Maissan's solar project will displace. We need solar and wind to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles. We already spill enough power in the summer to fuel hundreds of electric cars.

I look forward to the day when thousands of Yukon people have solar panels on their roofs, energy storage units in their basements and electric cars being charged in their driveways, all powered by renewable energy.
Good for you John Maissan and the Kluane First Nation for being a renewable energy leaders and innovators in our Territory.

Up 11 Down 2

Wundering on Feb 29, 2016 at 6:24 am

Is the solar generated actually transferred back to grid, or is it just calculated at source by meter, and that amount credited to solar owner.

Up 20 Down 12

jc on Feb 28, 2016 at 9:21 pm

And when this project fails, guess who is going to pay for the losses. I'm sure prince has already got his cheque book primed.

Up 26 Down 41

Frank de Jong on Feb 28, 2016 at 5:56 pm

There is talk of Yukon requiring more power, and is planning to build more dams to produce it, and so the more solar and wind installed the better to eliminate the need for more ecologically destructive dams.

Up 21 Down 45

Lee Carruthers on Feb 28, 2016 at 1:25 pm

North of 60 is playing fast and loose with the facts. Solar energy available during late winter, especially, directly offsets diminishing water available for hydro generation.

Ultimately, water spilled during the spring freshet could be pumped to a lake at higher elevation, to be allowed to flow when it is needed to power our homes and businesses through the dark days of December and January - thus avoiding use of auxiliary generators fed by effectively filthy, climate destroying fracked LNG.

The days of dam it and burn it are coming to a close. Future energy systems (which are already being built and used elsewhere) will (here) use a mix of wind, solar, geothermal and smart hydro, connected to a smart grid. Cynics who strive to condemn alternative energy systems at every turn will soon find themselves swept aside.

Up 45 Down 18

north_of_60 on Feb 26, 2016 at 5:35 pm

The solar panels on Maissan's roof won't 'offset' anyone's 'carbon footprint'. That's a foolish misconception. Anytime there is solar available there is plenty of water for renewable hydro-electricity on the Yukon grid. Using solar on the grid means that water will be spilled which could have generated electricity. The rest of us rate-payers have to cover the cost of his 'cheque in the mail'.
Why should we subsidize his hobby?

It's even more economically foolish when one considers that YEC is paying 21 cents a solar kilowatt hour for the same 13 cent kilowatt hour hydro could have provided. Didn't Maissan once work for YEC? It's a sweet scam for those who pull it off.

Solar only makes good economic sense when it displaces diesel generation in off-grid communities like Burwash and Watson Lake.

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