Nelson's Community Solar Garden

Canada’s first Community Solar Garden.  Located just outside of Nelson, BC in Bonnington, above the Nelson Hydro Power Plant Generation Station.

Solar Drone Pic

 Photo credit: Luke Mori

Want to see the energy production?  Online Solar Production Monitoring Tool

Nelson celebrated the launch of Canada's first community solar garden in June 2017.  A community solar garden is a centralized solar array where members of the community have invested in the solar energy production on a per panel basis. The solar energy that is generated by the system is credited to the subscriber’s electricity bills in proportion to their investment on an annual basis for 25 years.  The project has been developed through Nelson Hydro's EcoSave Energy Retrofits Program.

The solar array is installed above the Nelson Hydro Generation Station in Bonnington, just outside of Nelson.  The size is approximately 60kW, and consists of 248 solar modules. The system feeds into the Nelson Hydro grid and is part of Nelson Hydro’s capital assets. 

The system is fully subscribed with investors varying from renters, homeowners, business owners, some of  Nelson’s Co ops, several churches, our local schools and the local  college.  These investors will be receiving a credit on their Nelson  Hydro electric bill once per year in proportion to their investment for  25 years.  This is a first of its kind in Canada, the project is similar to Nelson Hydro’s net metering program and is referred to as virtual  net metering.

Ribbon Cutting at the Grand Opening June 24, 2017

Ribbon Cutting

How did it all begin?

Offering solar this way is popular in the United States, and that is where the idea came from.  Nelson Hydro is a small municipally owned electric utility and because it owns its own electric grid, this type of model was possible. Nelson Hydro saw that there was value in offering a solar project, to both the utility and the community. The utility gains the experience in solar and provides the opportunity for local renewable energy to its customers.  Not everyone that is interested in solar can access it due to renting, shaded roof or affordability, this type of model makes solar accessible to everyone who wants it. Once it was determined that there was value for the utility and the community, a conversation cafe was held to see if community members were interested. Prior to that event, some solar data analysis was conducted to ensure viability. 

Solar Monitoring

As a part of the early stages in determining whether Nelson could benefit from solar there were solar sensors installed at Lakeside in June 2014 and Elephant Mountain in August 2014. The irradiance data that was collected was used to validate energy production simulations that have been calculated for this area and have helped to estimate potential energy production for the community solar garden.

View the solar graphs during various time periods in the Archive Center. On each of the graphs there is the clear sky theoretical measurement that shows the solar available if there were no clouds in the sky. This has been calculated using long term averages that use real weather data from this area. The clear sky theoretical used in the graphs is the theoretical data calculated for the Lakeside location.

Conversation Cafe

On April 8th 2015, a conversation cafe was held to discuss the community solar garden project and assess the public's level of interest. The cafe was well attended, with over 90 people in the room and over 80 completed opinion polls.

The information that the was provided at the cafe and from the opinion polls will prove very valuable. Since the cafe results showed that there was a high level of interest, steps were taken towards offering the project to the community.    View Solar Conversation Cafe Notes and Opinion Poll Results (PDF)

Next Steps as of July 2015

The Community Solar Garden Project Plan was presented to Nelson's City Council on June 15, 2015. The information was well received with some questions regarding final costs, locations and source of panels. After a review of several sites, the one that makes the most sense is the land near the Bonnington Generation Station. This site is accessible, near power poles and is city owned land. Once costs and buy-in models are finalized for the project, appropriate bylaws for Nelson Hydro will be amended. If City Council approves the bylaw amendments there will be an information session open to Nelson Hydro customers to learn about costs and program details, plus an opportunity to participate by committing to the presale of the project. There would be a time limited phase for presales, and if the number reaches 75% by the deadline the project will go ahead. The proposed timeline for the costs and bylaw amendments is for late summer, so the information session may be as early as fall.

Interest in participating in the project remains high, daily requests are received from the community to be added to the interest list, so far there are over 250 names. It is great to see such a high level of interest.

Next Steps as of November 2015

The updated project plan was presented to city council on November 2nd. The public roll out will begin on November 17, 2015 at a pre-sale kick off event. The public will learn about the location, energy production estimates, buy in models, solar credit rates and costs. There will be a 4 week pre-sale phase in which 75% of a 50kW array must be pre-sold, this is approximately 150 panels. Depending on the interest, the project may expand to 100kW's, which is about 400 panels. The generation from the solar panels will be sold on a per panel basis, and the value of the solar credit will be based on current electricity rates for a 25 year term.

To learn more, attend the kick off event on November 17th, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and presentation begins at 7 p.m. with pre-sales to follow. Bring your cheque book to avoid credit/debit transaction fees.

Interest list remains high, with over 350 people on the list. Sales will be first come first serve.

Project Completion

The pre-sale phase was a success and the size of the array was expanded due to the level of interest.  Construction for a 60kW array was started in September 2016, this project was completed as of June 2017.