03/03/2014 05:18 EST | Updated 05/03/2014 05:59 EDT

The MacGyver of Green Energy

It's one thing for SolarShare to get $3 million worth of solar projects going in Ontario under that provinces feed-in tariff program but it's quite another thing altogether to start a community solar program in small town Alberta with no government support.

And yet that's exactly where some pretty amazing green energy innovation is occurring. Les Quinton, the head of parks and facilities and an unassuming man with an amazing handlebar mustache who can best be described as the MacGyver of community green energy.

I met Quinton at his office at the the Oilfields Regional Arena in beautiful Black Diamond, Alberta nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just south of Calgary. As I walked in Quinton was poring over spreadsheets on his computer with data from his various green energy and energy efficiency projects. He's been at this since before green energy was cool.

"We got involved with the Alberta Municipal Solar Showcase back at the end of 2006...and we ended with 1.82 kilowatt solar system." This was before the microgeneration regulation in Alberta so it took six months of paperwork just to get this small solar system installed.

Soon after this first foray into solar energy the town of 2300 people started putting up more projects.

"We have a fair amount of solar, we have a little over 16 kilowatts on the arena roof, and five kilowatts on the office roof and two and a half kilowatts of wind," smiles Quinton.

Today Black Diamond has a Sustainable Black Diamond Advisory Committee and they even have their own residential solar program that has already helped half a dozen residents install solar systems, not with money, but mostly with good advice.


Les Quinton, the Parks and Recreation Manager for Black Diamond, Alberta has implemented energy efficiency measures that have saved 615 megawatt hours of electricity, saving the town $75,000. Photo David Dodge, Green Energy Futures

Green reserve fund

The secret sauce in Black Diamond is the green reserve fund that is funded by the savings from Quinton's energy efficiency and conservation initiatives and from the money saved by the green energy projects. With this fund in place Quinton manages to sock about $7,000 a year away each year for future green energy projects.

"Our council backs all the projects. One of our councillors was one of the ones who came up with the idea of the green reserve," says Quinton.

Their recent 10-kilowatt solar project was funded by the green reserve fund and with a little help from Bullfrog Power's Bullfrog Builds program.

Green energy MacGyver

Solar panels are cool but where Les Quinton earns his MacGyver stripes is in energy efficiency. Quinton took us for a tour of the Oilfields Regional Arena and revealed his secrets.

"We have an outdoor refrigerated hockey rink and by using a weather station and having it shut off with the temperatures and at night it's reduced the run time by about 1,200 hours a year. That works out to about 30,000 kilowatts of power," says Quinton.

The cheapest way to save energy is to simply not use it. Quinton simply used a little bit of technology, a weather station, and used it to shut off the ice plant when it's cold or not needed.

In the indoor rink Quinton added a low-e ceiling, which enabled him to raise the temperature of the ice saving another 800 hours of refrigeration. Low-flow toilets and showerheads save a whopping 18,000-gallons of hot water from hockey players who like to leave the showers on. New pipes, energy efficient pumps and better behavior helped workers save about 280,000 gallons of water in the Zamboni water system. A simple timer ensured the heaters in the bleachers were only on when needed. Add in LED lights and dozens of other small innovations and Black Diamond has saved $75,000 and an amazing 615-megawatt hours of electricity from energy efficiency projects.

Quinton did it the right way. He didn't go straight to the big, showy solar project. By taking out the low hanging fruit and maximizing energy efficiency and energy conservation Quinton is getting the best bang for his buck with his solar modules. With his newly installed 10-kilowatt solar project he's even projecting that he'll be selling solar energy back to the grid this summer.

Those small wind turbines? Not the best performers, especially when compared to the solar. Community solar projects can be tricky, people generally like and support the idea but the devil is in the details. With a local champion like Les Quinton minding those details it means a much more successful community solar project.

Community solar in action