July 11, 2012 00:07:00
Think of it as a chance to buy shares in the sun.
A Hamilton group is seeking residents interested in joining the city's first renewable energy co-operative.
The goal is to pool enough cash to install a 55-kilowatt solar project — enough to power four or five homes — on one or more rooftops above the city.
“Lots of people like the idea of solar panels … but not a lot of people can afford to do it on their own,” said Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko, project co-ordinator for the Hamilton Halton Energy Awareness Team. “This is a chance to make green power accessible for the community.”
The upfront cost of the project could range between $275,000 and $300,000, she said. Solar panels vary in size and efficiency, but Ekoko said early research suggests the project might need more than 200 panels, each as tall as a person. Co-op organizers are still calculating the “minimum investment” needed to join the co-op, but Ekoko said a successful effort probably requires 200 members.
So far, the group has around 50 people who have expressed interest in taking part. All co-op members would share in decision-making as well as any profits, Ekoko said.
“We think we can make money from it, but it's primarily attractive for people who want to make a personal investment in a sustainable future,” she said.
Ekoko said organizers estimate they can pay back the capital cost over eight years — provided the province keeps paying top dollar for electricity from small green projects through the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program.
A revamped FIT program, which provides cash incentives for renewable energy projects such as solar, wind and hydro power, is scheduled to be launched by the Ontario Power Authority later this year with extra priority placed on community projects, said spokesperson Tim Butters. Under draft rates published online by the OPA, rooftop projects like Hamilton's would earn nearly 55 cents per kilowatt-hour by feeding the provincial power grid.
“We do really depend on the FIT program to make a venture like this possible,” said Ekoko, who estimates the project could produce $34,000 worth of power every year.
Organizers hope to nail down a large, structurally sound south-facing host rooftop in time to apply for an anticipated round of new FIT contracts.
The local group grew out of a partnership between Environment Hamilton and the Halton Environmental Network.
A similar effort dubbed Bright Sky Power is also heating up in Burlington, while several Hamilton-area churches are already reaping the benefits of a sunnier outlook on life, including projects at Laidlaw United, Central Presbyterian and Melrose United.
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