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Centrelea group explores 20-year solar energy fundraiser for community hall

Bill Crossman heads up a solar electricity project that could see the Centrelea Community Hall producing 25 kilowatts of electricity and getting paid for it by Nova Scotia Power. If they knock down the $53,000 capital cost through grants, they could be making a profit right from the start.
Bill Crossman heads up a solar electricity project that could see the Centrelea Community Hall producing 25 kilowatts of electricity and getting paid for it by Nova Scotia Power. If they knock down the $53,000 capital cost through grants, they could be making a profit right from the start. - Lawrence Powell

CENTRELEA, N.S. - The Centrelea Community Hall could be producing up to 25 kilowatts of clean, solar energy in the near future and reaping the financial benefits from Nova Scotia Power.

The community hall association has been approved through the provincial Solar Electricity for Community Buildings Program and has the option of developing a solar array that would bring in 25 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.

The group has secured pre-approval for financing for the $53,000 project that could bring in as much as $6,700 a year for energy produced. The hitch is that they would be in the red about $700 a year for the first 10 years.

Residents at a community information meeting at the hall Oct. 3 seemed to approve the project in general but hoped to be able to knock down the capital cost through grants from various sources including the County of Annapolis and the federal government’s New Horizons program.

Bill Crossman, who is leading the project, said that annual revenue from the project would be about equal to debt servicing each year for the 10-year life of the loan. On top of that, annual maintenance would cost about $500. In the end they could be facing an annual loss of $700 for the life of the loan. After the loan is paid off the hall would stand to make a substantial profit every year.

“Essentially what I’m talking to the group about tonight is our strategy going forward,” he said. “The reason I put in for 25 cents a kilowatt hour was I knew it would be like this but as a non-profit group we’re in a position to get other grants and contributions from funding groups. So we can knock down the loan at any time with whatever new grants we find along the way.”

Crossman said the program allows them two years to actually put the array in place. They could also back out of the project if they want.

“What we’ll be talking about tonight is whether or not we want to just say ‘okay, we’ll wait now ‘til spring.’ We have some applications out there for grants now. We’re waiting on those now to make their decisions. If we can knock the capital costs back to the point where we get some sort of comfortable amount of revenue beyond what we need to pay for the loan month to month, then we’ll go ahead.”

Crossman said the motivation for pursuing such a project was two-fold.

“We wanted to be able to say that the hall did something in the fight against climate change,” Crossman said. “So here we are, mostly seniors, saying ‘okay, can we make a contribution somehow?’ And this is one way we can do it. We’re part of the answer as opposed to the problem.”

The other more practical thing is that this guarantees a cash flow for 20 years for the hall, he said.

“Every year we go through fundraisers trying to keep the doors open, keep lights on, keep the heat going,” he said, “but now we would have $6,000 a year coming in for 20 years to the hall. So that’s a substantial piece of security for the hall.”

Crossman said at the meeting, the array would consist of 81 panels at 330 watts each, totaling roughly 25 kilowatts at peak sun conditions. The panels they would be buying are guaranteed for 20 years, the same length of time as the agreement with Nova Scotia Power. With the racks on the ground, as opposed to the roof, maintenance would be easy.

“I think it’s in tune with what’s going on and the way we have to go,” said local resident Blair Hannam who attended the meeting. “If everybody could start thinking this way and had a place and a group who could do this, it would eventually help the whole situation.”

Like Crossman, he was referring to helping the environment and the hall.

“We’ve got to start thinking for the future. This is part of it,” Hannam said. “Solar as opposed to wind energy is affordable. You don’t have to have a million dollars like you do to build a windmill, but if you can put up this amount, and it’s affordable, and we have the place for it, it’s certainly worth pursuing.”

In the meantime, the community hall group will wait on news from grant applications.

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