With the success of the wind farm operation in Ellershouse under their belts, the municipal partnership known as AREA (Alternative Resource Energy Authority) – which includes the towns of Antigonish, Berwick and Mahone Bay – is now exploring solar gardens in each community.
Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher, who is chairperson for AREA, talked about how town council is often encouraged to look at more green energy alternatives and this proposal fits right into that goal. She noted how the town has done some net metering and allowed solar panels on homes in the electric utility’s limits.
“This is even more exciting because it’s something that will benefit all of our rate payers,” Boucher said, talking to the Casket July 10.
“It doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to put them directly on your house, this is something the town is investing in and we want the community to invest in as well. We’re going to give people the opportunity to invest in it and have not only the benefit of maintaining our low electricity rates, but also being part of a dividend; they can invest in it and hopefully get a return on their money.
“Just like when we invested in our wind farm and are reaping the benefits of that – town residents are reaping the benefits of that – we’re going to give our community the opportunity to invest in the solar garden and hopefully reap some of those benefits.”
Boucher said AREA staff are looking into the gardens and the province has recently provided money for a feasibility study.
“We’ve been granted $75,000 from the province to do a feasibility study; that is going on now. It’s 50-cent dollars, so AREA is putting in the other half. That’s where it stands right now; we’re very confident the feasibility study will come back positive for all communities.”
Boucher talked about a local site already picked out and the benefit that its usage is very limited.
“Not only are we putting them within our electrical utility limits, we’re using brown fields; land that is not really good for anything else,” she said.
“Ours is in the Brierly Brook area, just past Home Hardware. We’re using an old landfill site which belongs to the town, that’s not good for anything else but has perfect positioning for a solar garden.”
Another positive Boucher pointed to is that the project involves direct access to distribution.
“We don’t have to pay any tariffs to Nova Scotia Power, so it’s going to be 100 per cent benefit to our residents,” she said. “What we’re proposing is three megawatt, which is significant and will increase on green energy production.”
Boucher said while there is no firm timetable, the hope is to have the project “settled” and “underway” within the year.
“We’re looking at the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), so [contributions] from the federal government and provincial government,” she said. “The federal government will give us 40 per cent if the province will give us 33 per cent with the rest coming from the municipalities. Right now, we’re waiting on the province, the federal government is in.
“This, kind of, ticks all the boxes the province is looking for. It’s reducing a carbon footprint and producing revenue for communities … it’s an alternative revenue source as well.”
Boucher returned to the benefits of working as a trio and the fact AREA staffer Aaron Long has been able to seek out additional projects.
“The towns of Antigonish, Berwick or Mahone Bay would never be able to do this – on this scale – by themselves,” she said.
“But when we can come together and have staff who are able to do this; this is a result of Aaron going to different conferences in the States, bringing back ideas and seeing if we could implement them. So kudos to Aaron and his team, but also to Meaghan Barkhouse,” she said, referencing the director of corporate services for the Town of Antigonish.