“We have all this wonderful sun in the Kootenays. Why not make use of it?” So says Lynda McNutt, resident of the small community of Edgewood and President of the Edgewood Volunteer Fire Department Society.

And she isn’t talking about sunbathing or gardening. Instead, she’s speaking about installing solar panels to generate electricity. Not only did she do this on her own home, but she was instrumental in getting it done on the local fire hall too. “I know how well it works.”

The people of the Basin have told the Trust it’s important to find opportunities to conserve energy and generate it in renewable, alternative ways. And so the Trust supported the costs of installing the panels on the Edgewood fire hall—and on community buildings in places like Balfour and Cranbrook.

Here are the three E’s of why these solar projects make sense.

Expenses

A big issue for the fire hall is trying to find funding for ongoing expenses. And in the winter, you can’t let the water tanks freeze. The society’s main goal, then, was to cut back on electrical costs. Now, after the collaborative efforts of a number of people and organizations, McNutt says, “We expect not to be paying for electricity at all.”

In Balfour, three community buildings have taken the solar-power step: the seniors’ centre, the community hall and the golf course clubhouse. “What personally excites me is the energy independence,” says Ramona Faust, Director of Area E in the Regional District of Central Kootenay, which championed the project and was the main financial supporter.

“For societies that operate on a really small budget, energy rates can start to be really prohibitive.”

Gordon Bruce, left, and Marvin Pederson, right
Gordon Bruce, left, and Marvin Pederson, right, of the Balfour Seniors Association stand before the seniors’ centre. Photo: Colin Payne

Environment

Faust also notes that everyone benefits when we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions—which ties into the reasoning behind another solar project, in Cranbrook.

There, the Ktunaxa Nation Council installed panels on the roof of its government building. Don Maki is the Facilities and Capital Acquisitions Manager.

“As a First Nations government, we have to take a step toward stewardship of the environment, and we felt that this was a really good, strong effort that we could take.”

They also went even further. During the same project, they installed an electric vehicle Level 2 charger, with nine of the 119 solar panels dedicated to powering it. “After we turned it on, within 20 minutes there was a car plugged in,” Maki says. “It’s used all the time.”

He also praises everyone who took part in the project, from funders to the building and electrical inspectors. “Everybody put in 110 per cent and we made the project happen.”

The Ktunaxa Nation Council government building.
The Ktunaxa Nation Council government building. Photo: Jose Galdamez

Education

Each project also has an educational component. Faust says the Balfour buildings “could encourage others to consider solar in the future.” In Edgewood, McNutt says, “It’s a small community, so people ask lots of questions. ‘What are you guys doing at the fire hall? What are those things on the roof?’” She has already had a few residents question her about how they could use solar power too.

And in Cranbrook, the Ktunaxa project has involved making a series of educational videos. Residents and organizations interested in solar power will be able to watch these videos to get an idea of the potential challenges involved, how to operate a solar installation and more. Maki says solar power “is such a huge initiative in the world, but we don’t have a lot of individuals with that knowledge, especially in the smaller communities.”

With videos like these, live examples on community buildings, and the possibility of support from the Trust, solar power how-to in the Basin is poised to quickly expand.

Community buildings get a hand

From arenas to community centres, Basin residents rely on many types of buildings as spaces to gather and get things done. But these buildings can be expensive to power and heat and can create a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

To relieve the burden on bill-payers and the environment, the Trust is introducing a new Energy Sustainability Program in late 2018. The program will provide $1 million to help make these facilities more sustainable. Supported projects may include installing solar panels or geothermal heat pumps so they can generate their own clean, renewable energy, and upgrading them to be more energy efficient.