Muskoka – Whether the district should lease its land to facilitate solar farms is a complex issue.
The conversation was prompted by Georgian Bay mayor Larry Braid, who asked if the District of Muskoka was looking into producing solar power to offset electricity costs at its facilities.
Braid made the inquiry at an engineering and public works committee meeting.
Tony White, commissioner of engineering and public works, said the district has not and does not intend to try to power its facilities using direct solar power, but said other avenues are being investigated.
“The reason we can’t simply go off grid and use solar power or wind power to power our facilities is that it would take hundreds of acres to provide for our needs,” said White. “And cleaning the power and ensuring it is stable is a major issue and better left to the hydro authorities so when it comes back to us it’s as clean as possible and as stable as possible.”
A stable, reliable power source provided by a hydro authority ensures the district’s water and sewage treatment plants, for example, are not under or over powered, said White.
Staff noted that the water and sewage treatment plants must have reliable energy sources because they must run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But the district is looking into supporting solar power generation by the private sector while bringing in a bit of revenue as well.
White explained that one of the recommendations being vetted by the district services review committee is the possibility of leasing district-owned land to the private sector for solar panels or energy farms.
At the services review steering committee meeting on Aug. 23, Georgian Bay coun. Paul Wianko noted his township is pulling revenue from leasing space for solar panels. Other municipalities such as Huntsville are investigating it. And Huntsville Coun. Fran Coleman noted the district’s attainable housing buildings have solar panels with the help of funding from senior government.
But Muskoka Lakes mayor Alice Murphy expressed some reservations about encouraging fields and banks of solar panels to pop up around the region.
While she appreciated the revenue aspect, she expressed concern that such installations would ruin the aesthetic appeal of Muskoka. After all, she said, the region’s economy is directly associated with its environment.
The services review steering committee continues to mull over the idea.
In the meantime, White noted several other energy-conscious initiatives the district is pursuing.
He said new facilities and replacement equipment meet energy efficiency standards and pointed to the new Bracebridge sewage treatment plant as an example.
“We’ve been very pleased with the performance of the Bracebridge sewage treatment plant,” he said. “Despite that it is much larger and on a much more complicated process system than its predecessor, it is actually showing hydro consumption similar to the old plant.”
The new plant’s treatment capacity is about 50 per cent greater than the one it replaced.
White said the district also pursues grants from Hydro One that help it purchase energy-efficient equipment.
And staff is continually negotiating energy prices from providers, he said.
White was also asked whether the district produces electricity from the biogas produced in its wastewater treatment plants.
“Do we produce electricity from that gas? No, we don’t. But do we produce energy? Yes,” said White. “We have boilers at the facilities and we use the gas to fire the boilers to produce heat.”
The heat is used in the treatment process and it also heats the buildings in the winter, said White.