Municipal buildings to draw on solar power
Toronto Star: Tyler Hamilton, Energy Reporter - Nov 16, 2007
City council is expected to approve an ambitious plan next week that
will see up to 20 government buildings around Toronto get their heat
from a new kind of energy provider: the solar utility.
Rather than pay the high upfront costs for its own solar energy systems,
the city plans to select a company that will install, own and operate
the solar thermal equipment on city buildings. In return, the city will
sign a long-term contract - lasting 10 years or longer - agreeing to pay
a fixed price for the renewable heat the systems produce at a rate
that's equal to or less than the existing rate for natural gas.
But unlike natural gas, solar heat produces no emissions and isn't
subject to price volatility.
"There's no downside to it," said Bruce Bowes, the city's chief
operating officer and a forceful backer of the proposal. "It gives us
more stable pricing ... reduces CO2 emissions, and it helps the city
appear as one of the better renewable energy capitals in the country."
The model is no different than a gas utility that agrees to pay the
capital cost of running a pipe into your home in exchange for your
purchase of natural gas and its delivery. Over the length of a contract,
the upfront cost to the utility is more than offset by the customer's
long-term energy purchases.
Solar panels, depending on the type, can either generate electricity or
produce heat. Solar photovoltaic systems are designed to produce power,
while solar thermal systems - the kind recommended in the city plan -
describe technologies that use the sun's energy to heat buildings and
The proposal goes before council on Monday, coincidentally on the
opening day of the Canadian Solar Industries Association's annual trade
conference in Toronto.
Once approved, a request for proposals will be issued, inviting
companies in the area to bid for the business.
"It should be rubber-stamped," said Keith Stewart, a climate-change
analyst with environmental group WWF Canada.
The buildings that do initially get equipped won't be completely free of
using natural gas (or electricity) for heating, as the sun doesn't shine
on cloudy days and at night. But the solar energy produced over a year
typically reduces the need for fossil fuels by more than a third.
Toronto already has some experience with solar thermal heating. The city
has installed systems to heat pool water at three recreation centres -
Scarborough Centennial, Agincourt and Jimmie Simpson. Two fire stations
in the city also get their hot water from solar panels. But unlike the
solar utility approach, the city owns those systems.
Louis Fournier, vice-president of sales for Toronto-based Mondial Energy
Inc., one of the companies likely to bid for the city's business, said
municipalities don't store and deliver their own natural gas or generate
their own electricity, so it makes sense that they don't build and own
their own solar energy systems.
"This fits with their long-term plan of using more renewable energy
without putting a burden on taxpayers," said Fournier.
Mondial began promoting itself as a solar utility about three years ago.
Since then, it has signed long-term contracts to supply a 170-unit
community housing site on Queen St. E., a 205-resident seniors building
near Danforth and Coxwell Avenues, and a 64-suite residence at Main St.
and Kingston Rd.
All systems can be monitored in real-time over the Internet, making it
easy for any resident or building operator to verify performance, energy
savings and the amount of greenhouse gases being displaced.
Bowes said 20 buildings are likely just the start for the city. "If this
is quite successful, there's no reason to not continue," he said.
"There's no reason to limit it to 20 buildings."
245 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 410
Toronto, Ontario M4P 3J1
Tel. 416-489-4567 xt 7257
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