Community solar enterprise could be Cowichan Valley’s energy future

I recently watched a screening of the film The Future of Energy hosted by One Cowichan and Transition Cowichan. The film took a different angle than most previous films I’ve watched, where emphasis was on our failure to see and be the change that many believe is urgently needed.

This film is one of hope and optimism, highlighting instead the opportunities and successes of groups, industry, and individuals to engage and invest in technologies such as solar electric that have the potential to both reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and provide jobs and meaningful return on investments, here in our community. Many examples were given of homes, businesses, and whole communities that had gone off the grid, or become carbon neutral by using solar and wind energy to meet their electrical needs.

There are challenges of course in the way large rooftop solar outputs can affect the grid and in the fact that in our coastal climate there are many days when "the sun don’t shine". But worldwide investment in solar panels has expanded to the point where systems are costing half of what they did five years ago and research and improvements in lifespan and efficiencies are bringing the technology into the mainstream.

In spite of overwhelming scientific consensus and the facts that the world has just come through the warmest six months on record (condolences to Eastern Canada) and Arctic sea ice is once again at a new record low for the time of year, there are those who still maintain that climate change is not happening and/or the burning of fossil fuels has nothing to do with it.

One such individual trend to rain on the parade by citing negative growing pains of renewable energy expansion, misrepresenting the expected lifecycle of solar panels and finally suggesting that we would be better off to wait for thorium powered nuclear reactors to save us, rather than invest in technologies that are practical, affordable, and available right here, right now!

I am a well driller and a grandfather, not a scientist, but I have great faith in the many scientists that stick to their area of expertise, stay current with scientific progress, and don’t allow oil based ideologies to cloud their objectivity. These scientists are shouting from the rooftops that we need to pursue every available option to stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere, and we need to do it as fast as possible.

To that end, many individuals and businesses in the Cowichan Valley are embracing rooftop and larger type solar arrays, but there are many people who do not have a suitable rooftop, and/or do not have the finances to purchase an entire system for themselves.

Myself and a few other optimists have started discussing the possibility of creating a community owned solar array located on a public building such as a rec center, campus building, local government office or recycling facility. Such an installation could have the ability to allow individuals to own as few as one solar panel that would feed green energy into the grid, pay a dividend to the owners, be transferable, be located in a place that would optimize performance and payback, while moving Cowichan towards a sustainable energy future.

The fact that I have solar panels on my roof gives me a nice green feeling, but in reality my roof is not perfectly suited for solar panels. My impact on reducing the need for more hydro-electric dams or fossil fuel powered generating plants AND my financial return on my investment would be greater if my array was located on some other Valley rooftop that had better solar potential.

If you have any interest in being part of such a community initiative to push Cowichan Valley sustainability please email me at gosolarcowichan@gmail. com and get on the list of potential owners of a community solar enterprise.

If you want to know if thorium powered nuclear reactors are going to pop up and save the day, you will have to talk to a real scientist but my research suggests that you shouldn’t sit idle, or hold your breath waiting.