The City of Selkirk flipped the switch to start harnessing the power of the sun Monday morning in what is being touted as the largest rooftop solar installation in the province.

“It was a beautiful sunny day this morning so we were pretty excited to launch it on a cloudless day and see the meter spin backwards as it was,” said Justin Phillips, CEO of Sycamore Energy, the company that installed the panels.

The Selkirk Recreation Complex on Easton Drive in the city 34 kilometres north of Winnipeg was outfitted with 676 solar panels earlier this year and will generate over 225,000 kilowatt hours annually, helping to power the facility that houses a large ice rink and community centre.

Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol, left, along with Mayor Larry Johannson, centre, and Sycamore Energy’s Justin Phillips unveil on Monday the solar project installed on the city’s recreation complex. (Submitted by City of Selkirk)

“Most complexes like this are quite power hungry due to the nature of what they do here with respect to the ice rink and making ice in the winter months,” said Phillips.

The panels are expected to offset power consumption by about 17 to 20 per cent, depending on rates.

“From an economic standpoint alone this makes perfect sense,” said Duane Nicol, Selkirk’s chief administrative officer.

“But from an environmental standpoint as well as risk-mitigation standpoint it’s really good public policy.” 

The city spends more than $100,000 a year to power the building, Nicol says, and as energy rates are expected to increase over time, the project should pay for itself in about 15-17 years — roughly halfway through the panels’ expected lifespan of 30 years.

“The facility is going to be here for at least 20 to 30 years, and longer if we maintain it properly,” Nicol said. “So we’re going to be the owners for the life of the building so the payback period works for us.”

City cashed in on rebate program

The project was approved under Manitoba Hydro’s Solar Energy Pilot Program, which came into effect in April 2016 but was discontinued two years later.

A $200,000 grant from the program helped offset the cost, with the city paying the remaining $400,000, which came from its reserve fund.

The complex was an ideal candidate for solar power installation given its location in a wide open space and design.

“It was a great south-facing roof, perfect angle,” said Phillips. “This is a prime spot for solar.”

Phillips says southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan are among the best in the country when it comes to potential for capturing the power of the sun.

“We have some of the best solar resources in Canada that we should be taking advantage of …,” Phillips said.

Nicol says the project is part of the city’s commitment to greener initiatives, something Selkirk’s residents have asked for.

“They told us they expect us to be good environmental stewards and improve our performance as a city, so this is just one of the ways we are demonstrating that we are doing that,” Nicol said.

“This is a project that will benefit citizens for decades to come.”

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