POWASSAN – Powassan United Church and Greening Sacred Spaces shared their passion for the environment on Saturday, June 16, with a presentation and tour of some of the area’s green initiatives.
The church is taking advantage of the provincial government’s MicroFIT initiative through the Green Energy Act and managed to get under the wire with the rates before prices dropped.
Bob Jackson, who sits on the church council, says he had been looking toward solar energy for his home and says there was envy in his heart every time he looked at the south-facing slope of the church roof.
In the fall of 2009 he suggested exploring solar panels to the church council, which he says was met with polite interest.
“Nothing much happened except the seed was sewn,” he said.
At the end of 2010, interest in the project began to generate.
“It really came to fruition when we had our annual meeting in February 2011 of the United Church council,” he said. “Minister Teresa Jones took us through an exercise of looking at what we wanted to do in the future and what our priorities and goals would be.”
Jackson says they had embraced the idea of Greening Sacred Spaces and had done a number of things in the church to make it more environmentally responsible.
The idea of solar panels re-emerged. A small committee was set up to follow through on the necessary steps to get the project going.
The first step was to register with the Ontario Power Authority.
“Being green to all of this and looking at all the documents available online can be somewhat overwhelming at first glance,” he said.
He says registration was simple.
“We thought we were well on our way at that point, but we found out we weren’t,” he said.
They set out getting quotes from solar power companies and settled on a company that brought in the lowest quote – Sunvolts of Sundridge.
“However we didn’t hear from them as we were expecting and about a week later we thought, ‘What’s going on? We hadn’t heard anything,” said Jackson.
They called the office only to discover the company had gone out of business.
“We were very fortunate. In fact, through this whole process we were extremely fortunate,” he said.
They turned to one of the other companies who had tendered for their business and employed John Hood and Les Lisk of Sustainable Building and Energy Consultants Inc.
Based on the quote provided, they turned to the United Church of Canada and secured a loan and a grant.
“We also had some money from the sale of the United Church manse back in the ‘70s that was still sitting around,” he said. “We could only use the interest from that.”
The total cost was more than $75,000, including taxes and the hookup to the hydro grid.
Jackson says there were still some skeptics, so they brought in Lisk and Hood for a meeting and put it to the congregation, who decided unanimously to proceed.
“I call this a chicken and egg application process,” said Jackson.
He said the first thing they needed to do was ensure they could connect to the grid, so they had to make an application to Hydro One for a connection agreement.
“However, interestingly enough, they required a number from the Ontario Power Authority,” he said. “We thought that was the registration number so we put that number in.”
As it turns out that wasn’t the number they were looking for. They had to apply to the power authority for an additional contact and received the number they were looking for.
A second application was sent to Hydro One, and in September they received permission for hookup.
The power authority also needed a pin number for the property. They contacted the Parry Sound registry office, where staff said they would have to have someone drive to Parry Sound and conduct a search.
“We went to the town office and they had a pin number, but it wasn’t the right pin number,” he said. “We used it anyway and found out later that it was not the right pin number.”
As it turned out, a member of the congregation had done a search of the property for another reason and there, documented in the church, was the number they were looking for.
They renewed the application again.
The Ontario Power Authority issued a conditional contract in November 2011 and they were ready to go, except they didn’t have a building permit.
“We were initially told we didn’t need a building permit but between that time, which was in June, and the time that we were ready to go in November, things had changed,” he said.
Not only did they now need a building permit, but they also needed to get an engineer’s report showing that the roof was suitable for the panels. Upon completion of that part process they were ready to go, however it was December.
“Again how fortunate could we be, nice balmy weather and no snow,” he said.
It was Jan. 13 when they were ready to go.
And again, they had good fortune. They managed to get up and running just before the rates changed, and signed in at the old rate allowing them payment of 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour, locked in for 20 years.