The solar panels blend so well into the slope of the roof that you might not notice them right away. But there they are, more than 30 panels, soaking up the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity — about 16,000 kilowatts a year’s worth.
The panels were installed by a local company, Evergreen & Gold Renewable Energy, and the $64,000 project didn’t cost the community league a dime — the installation and materials were all covered by three grants from various levels of government. Parkdale-Cromdale Community League President Steven Townsend said it was a race to get one grant in before provincial guidelines changed as “some of the funding options were no longer going to be on the table anymore.”
Still, there are many programs available, and that’s where Michael Barnard, the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues’ energy transition advisor, comes in. Currently, there are at least 23 different solar energy projects that have been completed or are in progress in community leagues across the city. Community halls are going solar, but the big payoff, as Barnard sees it, isn’t just that the halls become energy self-sufficient. The big win is when residents go to the halls or to the adjoining community rinks or parks and see that solar panels don’t take up a lot of space or look unseemly. Those residents may then be inspired to put solar panels on the roofs of their homes.
“We get to show off the efficiency of the technology,” Barnard says.
“Part of it is getting off the grid, per se,” says Townsend. “We’re embracing environmentally friendly power generation. Alberta is one of the sunniest places in the country. This just makes sense. But it also gets the community together, to get everybody behind something.”
Kevin Wong, the second vice-president of the Parkdale-Cromdale Community League, says the system covers 100 per cent of the hall’s usage. Also, in case of emergencies, people in the neighbourhood can come to the hall to plug in laptops and phones.
There are limits to what a household or a community league can generate. You can’t generate significantly more than you can use in a year. Wong says the community league looked at two years’ worth of power usage in the hall. That gave the installers a reliable yearly average from which to work. The idea is that the system generates enough power to cover that average. But — and this is the big but — if the users can cut their power use from what they consumed over previous years, the surplus can be converted to cash. So, by installing the panels and then taking cost-cutting measures like putting in LED lights or replacing the old mercury bulbs at the community rink, users create a power surplus.
“In the winter time, we don’t generate as much, but in the summertime we’ll have a surplus we can actually sell back to the grid,” says Wong.
While the number of projects continues to grow, community leagues have been looking at solar power for more than a decade. In 2009, different community leagues challenged each other to make changes in their communities. The Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) got involved in 2012, and the Green Leagues Challenge began; as a result, some small-scale solar systems were given away.
In 2016, EFCL and the City of Edmonton agreed to work together to come up with ways to better serve the leagues when it came to energy efficiency — which created the role of energy transition advisor.
Now, the progression is to get all of the city’s community leagues on board. By 2040, it may be as common to see solar panels in a community park as a spray park, a play-ground or an outdoor rink.
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This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Edify.