ANTIGONISH, NS COOPERATIVE MAKES BUYING SOLAR PANELS MORE AFFORDABLE
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by Michelle Moore
High electricity costs and a desire to move toward more sustainable living practices can motivate people to make the change to renewable energy such as solar power. Although solar panels cost nearly half as much per kilowatt per hour compared to ten years ago, installing a system can still represent a lot of upfront costs.
The Antigonish Community Energy Cooperative, otherwise known as the ACE Coop is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organization that arranges bulk purchases of solar panels, referred to as group-buys, for the Antigonish area and Cape Breton. Homeowners and business owners alike can join the coop and see if solar energy is right for their home or business.
Their hope is "to ensure a strong local economy while upholding the principles of environmental protection and sustainability." Antigonish Community Energy was founded following the Community Energy Forums in fall 2014 and spring of 2015. The purpose of the forums was to establish a plan focused on energy sustainability that was community-based.
Regarding Canada's goal to reach 40% renewables by 2020, Head of communications Patrick Clay Yansey explained that in Nova Scotia, "we are still on 60% fossil fuels, I think that's one of the largest of any province in Canada. The strange thing about Nova Scotia is we've never really had a lot of hydro."
Yancey said "when we made those huge reductions, going to 40% renewables and making these huge reductions in fossil fuels it was one of the most ambitious reductions at the time in North America but because we were so much on fossil fuels to begin with, we are still using way more fossil fuels than some provinces of Canada so it's a complicated situation in that regard."
Largely due to the power source, the cost of electricity in the province had increased by five percent per year for the last ten years and will likely continue to rise as time goes on. This can make it difficult for anyone, but especially for low income families.
Yancey explains that "on every system purchase we add a 2% surcharge, we call that the poverty reduction surcharge. We collect all of that money and we are partnering with a local affordable housing group who's building a new low-income housing unit right now just outside Antigonish."
Taking the surcharge into account, people in the group-buy can still save up to ten to fifteen percent, based on the number of people involved and the current costs of solar panels.
Yancey said "we've so far raised $14 000 and that will probably get closer to $20 000 after the next group-buy, we've been going at about $7 000 per group-buy roughly. We will use that money to put solar power on the home that will lower energy costs for the residents and lower the carbon footprint overall."
The ACE Coop accounts for roughly fifteen percent of solar installations in the province. Coop members get a free site assessment which involves a certified solar panel installer visiting their home to look at their roof orientation, electrical system, past power bills and provide a quote on a system that fits their needs.