Mount Lorne sees future in solar power

The Mount Lorne community centre is now being powered in part by solar energy, thanks to a federal grant and the handiwork of a new Yukon workers' cooperative.

The Mount Lorne community centre is now being powered in part by solar energy, thanks to a federal grant and the handiwork of a new Yukon workers’ cooperative.

The south-facing roof of the pavilion near the community centre has been covered with 30 solar panels, which have been producing power since the end of March.

Al Foster, who spearheaded the project, said he hopes the solar array will produce 25 to 30 per cent of the community centre’s energy demand.

He said this project will help the community become a bit more independent. Hamlets like Mount Lorne don’t have their own tax base, he explained, which means that volunteers generally have to apply to the Yukon government if they need funding for projects and services.

“It’s all volunteer effort. If we need money, we have to write funding applications,” Foster said. “And to run a community centre, energy costs are always an issue for us.”

He’s hoping these solar panels will cut down on the amount of money the community has to request from the government.

The solar project has also been accepted by the Yukon government’s micro-generation program, which means that any excess power will be sold into the electricity grid for 21 cents per kilowatt.

“There would be periods of time during the year when we probably would be producing more power than we would use,” Foster said.

The idea for the solar array was born in 2014, when Foster learned that there was money for green energy projects in small communities through the federal New Building Canada Fund.

Together with the Lorne Mountain Community Association and the local advisory council, Foster put together a proposal for two solar arrays – one at the community centre and another at the dump.

In September 2015, Foster learned his proposal had been accepted, and the solar projects would be fully funded by the New Building Canada Fund.

The panels on the pavilion were installed over three days in March, at a price of about $3.85 per watt. Foster said they should produce 7.8 kilowatts of power on a sunny day. The second array, at the dump, has yet to be built.

Foster said he was inspired in part by the success he’s had with the solar system he installed on his own home two and a half years ago.

Despite the dark Yukon winters, he said, his array is still producing lots of power.

“It’s quite effective. What I’m finding is late November through to the end of January, there isn’t much production there,” he said. “But the beginning of February, we actually start pretty good solar production out of the panels.”

Foster said the solar panels will also act as a demonstration project for the community and provide educational opportunities for students.

The array was installed with a monitoring system, so anyone who’s interested can follow its performance online.

“That was part of demonstrating to the community that it is a viable alternative,” he said.

Foster estimates that the project should pay for itself in 16 to 18 years. He believes these small-scale renewable energy projects are a good option for many small communities, particularly off-grid communities that depend on diesel.

Mount Lorne isn’t the only Yukon community to have made a foray into solar energy.

The Kluane First Nation installed solar panels on the Red Garage in Burwash Landing in 2012, and has plans to install more.

And Old Crow and Teslin also listed solar projects as community priorities in a five-year Yukon infrastructure plan published last summer.

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources confirmed that 26 micro-generation projects have been accepted since the program was launched in 2013, with a total capacity of 120 kilowatts.

Laird Herbert of Sow’s Ear Renewable Energy, the company that installed the solar array in Mount Lorne, said he’s anticipating a busy summer for renewable energy installations in the Yukon.

He said renewable energies have gotten less expensive in recent years.

“I think it’s gotten to the point where it actually makes fiscal sense,” he said. “It really actually seems to be a serious threat for fossil fuels, which is exciting.”

Sow’s Ear recently became a workers’ cooperative, meaning the company is owned by its employees. Herbert said he thinks it may be the first of its kind in the Yukon, but he hopes the model will become more common.

As a cooperative, the employees vote on executive decisions, and have more power to shape the future of the company.

“It’s a very democratic way of running companies,” Herbert said. “I think those values might be something that quite a few Yukoners subscribe to.”

For the time being, Sow’s Ear has only three members, and the work isn’t full time. But Herbert has high hopes for the future of the green energy industry in the Yukon.

“I think there’s enough work and enough interest, and realistically I think renewable energies are just going to get cheaper.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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