In Edmonton, Alberta, almost every neighbourhood has a community league. These locally elected boards of community volunteers do the good work of running facilities and programs and engaging in civic issues. There are 158 such leagues in the city. It's the lowest level of representation we have and these dedicated volunteers drive the community's agenda.
My own community league runs soccer programs, an outdoor hockey rink and dance programs while also advocating for the neighbourhood on municipal issues and much, much more. Personally, I've volunteered in some capacity with them for the past 20 years. I've coached sports teams, served on the board as president and vice-president and been active in many civic issues and committees.
It's safe to say that I'm a big believer in their importance and in the contribution they make to the quality of our life. While the leaders of the world meet in Paris and craft sweeping policy that affects the entire planet, let's remember that the most important changes usually happen close to home.
Since 2012, I've travelled all over Canada profiling inspirational and successful renewable energy projects. I've seen the positive things solar and energy efficiency can do for communities. So when we started a big infrastructure refurbishment project at Evansdale Community League, I knew exactly what to push for.
Part of a larger project
We raised $800,000 to repave the ball hockey and basketball courts, install a new outdoor hockey rink and build an accompanying winter sports facility. As part of that project we also installed super efficient LED rink lights and two LED parking lot lights. The icing on the cake: we spent $43,500 installing a 13.6 kilowatt solar system.
Gordon Howell is the electrical engineer who designed our system. By his calculations, this project will generate about half of the electricity we use over the course of a year.
"Over the longer term, it's a phenomenal investment," says Howell. Making the decision even easier was the City of Edmonton and the Alberta Government covering 85 per cent of the upfront costs with an infrastructure grant. With that money our solar project has a simple payback of four to five years depending on the price of electricity.
The final cost of the system came in at $3.20 an installed watt, less than what people in California are paying for similar rooftop systems.
"Over the longer term, it's a phenomenal investment."
Solar, the only infrastructure that pays dividends
Don't get me wrong, sports courts and ice rinks are all important threads in a community's fabric, but they cost money to operate and require maintenance and replacement as they depreciate over time.
The LED lights and solar systems are different. The lights will save 65 per cent on electricity costs for our rink and the solar system will pay a dividend every single month for the next quarter century.
"All the money that you save in the meantime [with solar], you can put towards community sports programs and the like," says Howell.
Although it's a small project, both the LEDs and solar system tie into the City of Edmonton's community energy transition plan. We chatted with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson about this ambitious plan. The city wants 10 per cent of Edmonton's electricity locally generated from renewable sources by 2035. Community league roofs are a great place to start.
Ben Henderson is an Edmonton city councilor. He supported the energy transition plan and considers projects like this to be crucial to achieving those goals.
Finding the big picture
"Each of these [projects] feels like a small piece of the puzzle, but when you add them up, it's the only way you actually get any real change," says Henderson.
"Our energy transition strategy is about two things," says Henderson. "It's about how we can up our game and show leadership in terms of our own practice, but it's also creating incentives that make it easier for businesses, for [community] leagues, for all sorts of non-profit groups, and for individuals on their own houses to be able to step up as well and take away some the real or imagined barriers that are stopping people from making those choices."
Our 13.6 kilowatt solar system will cover about half of our annual electricity use -- but in case you didn't notice only half our roof is covered with solar. Gordon Howell designed the system so it's easy for us to double its size in the future to fully cover our electricity needs.
While helping to manage such a big project may have greyed a few more of my hairs, it's worth it every time I drive past the community league hall and watch the sun shine on our future.
Evansdale is one of 158 community leagues in Edmonton, Alberta. After a successful solar pilot program in which seven community leagues got energy audits and installed small 1.2 kW solar systems Evansdale decided to incorporate solar into an infrastructure upgrade project. For $43,500 they added 13.6 kW of solar, enough to provide half of their electricity over the course of a year. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Evansdale Community League enlisted the support of solar engineer Gordon Howell (left) the City of Edmonton (Councillor Ben Henderson (centre) to build it's 13.6 kW solar system as an investment in community. Also pictured is Jeff Muiselaar, president of Evansdale Communtiy League in Edmonton. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
David Dodge, host and producer of Green Energy Futures spent three years writing about solar and other renewable energy projects from across Canada (www.greenenergyfutures.ca) and then as a volunteer helped his neighbourhood community league go solar. The league needed to raise about $800,000 to do upgrades to community buildings, rinks and courts and simply incorporated the solar project into a regular infrastructure project. It's the only infrastructure that actually pays a dividend every month for the 300+ years life of the system. Photo Greg Schnel
Why shouldn't all community infrastructure programs add solar to their projects? That was the thinking behind a project in Evansdale Community League that involved building this new winter sports facility (it replaced an old stinky trailer skate shack). The league added LED rink lights and solar to the project to add an element that actually saves money and even produces revenue - unusual for normal infrastructure projects. Photo David Dodge
The new community winter sports facility at Evansdale Community League includes an accessible board room and office which is now half powered by solar energy. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Community leagues in Edmonton helped start hockey programs in the city which are now run by hockey organizations, but true to its roots Evansdale Community League now has a skate shop full of skates, sticks and pucks that are loaned free to people in the community to enable those without skates to try skating. Adding solar to this routine infrastructure project adds an element of sustainability to community programs since it pays a small dividend ever month in saved electricity and excess electricity sold to the grid. Photo David Dodge
Community infrastructure projects routinely involved building rinks, playgrounds and recreation facilities, but Evansdale Community League wanted to make their operations more sustainable so they replaced old energy inefficient lights with LEDs to save up to 65 per cent on electricity costs and then installed a 13.6 kilowatt solar system to provide half of the power needed to run community operations. Photo David Dodge
Evansdale Community League is one of 158 community leagues in Edmonton Alberta that runs hockey rink, ball hockey and basketball courts, dance programs and soccer for youth under 18. This year they decided to add LED rink lights and a 13.6 kilowatt solar system to their facility to save energy and produce their own clean electricity. Photo David Dodge
The crew from Evergreen and Gold Renewable Energy installing one of 52 solar modules that comprise the league's 13.6 kilowatt solar system. The system will provide half of the electricity consumed by the league over the course of the year thereby reducing their operating costs. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Evansdale Community League designed their 13.6 kilowatt solar system to cover half their roof and provide about half of the electricity to run the community groups operations over the course of a year. They also designed it such that once they raise the money they can add another 13.6 kilowatts to cover the other half of the roof and provide them with all the electricity they use each year. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
The solar crew of Dave Simmonds, Warren Sarauer and Steve Milne from Evergreen and Gold Renewable Energy pose with Evansdale Community League's new 13.6 kilowatt solar system that will provide half of the community organizations electricity over the course of a year. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Jeff Muiselaar is the president of Evansdale Community League. Here he shows off the inverters that take DC power generated by 52 solar modules and convert it to AC for use Solar. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Evansdale Community League can check it's solar energy production anytime by checking in with a web page that monitors solar production. Unfortunately this page can't be shared publicly on the community group's website. You can however see weekly and daily production: www.evansdale.ca/solar/
Solar modules in Edmonton Alberta average 60% higher solar production than the same modules used in Hamburg, Germany due to Alberta having a very solid solar resource. This is production of the Evansdale Community League 13.6 kilowatt solar system on one of the very common sunny days in Edmonton, Alberta.
Follow David Dodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenergy_dave