Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let sunlight fill your heart and wallet

How would you like to own a piece of the sun? It’s our constant and reliable source of life on earth – our food, our climate, and most of our energy, whether solar, wind, hydro, or fossil fuels (which are essentially stored sunlight). Without it we’d starve in the cold dark.
But for some, there’s also a more direct financial connection. The hot water in my house has been warmed by a high-efficiency vacuum-tube solar heating system since 2006, so our gas bill is a trifle. And just this past winter, we added an array of solar electric panels that have already put thousands of kilowatt-hours of clean electricity into the grid for use in our neighbourhood.
Mine is just one of many sunny rooftops in Barrie that could be part of this green energy pipeline. As I travel around town I see new panels, but many more places they still should be. And although the feed-in tariff (FIT) contract price has gone down, that just reflects the rapid drop in costs to buy and install solar panels.
Still, the price of solarizing your home can exceed $50,000, and you must consider what happens if you move during the 20-year contract period. But there’s another way you can be a part of the solar wave, and draw the sun’s power into Barrie and into your wallet – a solar co-op.
This community project hopes to work out a partnership/rental arrangement with the school board to utilize some of the roof space at Bear Creek Secondary, already the site of several smaller scale solar installations. It would be a huge 300-400 kilowatt FIT project, as big as 30-40 home-sized installations, utilizing all the free roof space. What is needed are 40 people to each own a share in the project. The cost of a share is only $10,000, with a regular return of 8 - 10% per year for each shareholder. That’s far beyond what any bond, GIC, or similar investment offers; low-risk with high return that equities can never promise, that also benefits our community.
As a co-op, this project gets priority placement in the queue for grid connection. The installation may take a year to complete, but can start immediately, as soon as potential shareholders step forward.
And even if $10,000 is too much for you to invest, you can put together your own group to hold a share jointly. You and 4 friends or relatives could each invest $2000, and each pull in around $200 annually for two decades.
Intrigued? To find out more, you can attend a meeting at Bear Creek, 100 Red Oak Dr, on Tuesday June 19th at 6 PM. For more information, call Marty at (705) 220-5410.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Solar panels help curb energy expenses"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

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