THE MUSKOKAN - The Lake of Bays has many natural assets. One such asset is the warm and consistent sunshine, and one local organization hopes to turn the sun into a big economic asset for the community.
SOCIALIZING FOR SOLAR ENERGY.
Margaret Casey, a volunteer board member with the Lake of Bays Renewable Energy Co-op, speaks to an interested community member at the Baysville Walkabout last week.
The Lake of Bays Renewable Energy Co-op (LOBREC) is a group of volunteers who plan to bring solar power to Baysville. Formed in 2011, the group wants to build a series of locally owned community energy projects.
Melinda Zytaruk, board member at LOBREC, said there are numerous benefits to a community-run renewable energy project.
“The more we can use renewable energy to generate our electricity, the more we can reduce air pollution and other costs related to non-renewable forms of electricity generation,” said Zytaruk. “That will benefit all of us both locally and globally.”
Several communities across Ontario have formed renewable energy co-operatives. Notably, a 7.5-megawatt solar installation is planned in Guelph.
Solar energy makes particular sense for the Lake of Bays area. Demand for electricity is highest in the summer when cottagers are present, which is also the point when the potential energy generated from solar energy is at its highest.
The first project the Lake of Bays co-op is working on is an installation of solar panels on the Baysville Community Centre. The plan is to sell bonds to the co-op members to acquire the necessary start-up capital for the project. After the initial start-up costs are met and the project is established, Zytaruk believes the co-op would see a profit in relatively short order.
“The electricity would be sold to the Ontario Power Authority through a feed-and-share contract, and then any surplus, after we pay our financing expenses, will be put back into the community for other community benefits,” Zytaruk said. “Additional environmental, educational or future renewable energy projects could be financed.”
A 2009 federal government report, titled Renewable Energy Policies for Remote and Rural Communities, reinforces Zytaruk’s economic argument. The report points out that locally developed energy projects keep a much higher percentage of a community’s energy expenditures within the community. With conventional energy systems “75 to 90 cents of every energy dollar leaves the local community,” reads the government report.
Another potential benefit of the project is education. Zytaruk points out that, because the proposed location for the installation is beside the library, it would be a simple matter to incorporate renewable energy education for all ages.
Software is available, which could be installed at the library, to provide a live feed of the energy being produced at the installation. Zytaruk believes this could be used as a jumping-off point to teach anyone interested about renewable energy and how it’s put to work in their community.
LOBREC representatives have been attending local events this summer aiming to create awareness and raise support for the project. They recently attended the Baysville Walkabout and said they spoke to a great deal of people who expressed interest in both a community solar power installation and the use of solar panels on private properties.
“We definitely hope to help people engage more with renewable energy in whatever way is best for them,” said Zytaruk.
Packages currently exist that allow homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs to generate their own power. In some cases, homeowners have generated enough power that they were able to sell electricity back to the greater electricity grid.
“This is an opportunity for us to get together and collectively do something to promote Lake of Bays,” Zytaruk said, “as a place of environmental stewardship, innovative economic opportunities and as a leader in sustainability.”
For more information on the co-op, visit their website at lobrec.org. To get a first-hand look, LOBREC’s annual general meeting will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25, in the Baysville seniors’ centre.