Rec centre scrambles to secure solar heating system

By Edward Hill – Goldstream News Gazette

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West Shore Parks and Recreation is working in overdrive to secure funding for a solar thermal system that will help heat its swimming pool.

WSPR has access to $73,000 in federal and provincial grants dedicated to solar heating, but the West Shore owner municipalities need to come up with $208,000 by the end of the month – light speed in bureaucratic time.

The entire project is on an extremely tight deadline – 1,260 evacuated solar thermal tubes and heat transfer system would need to be installed on the pool roof by Dec. 31, or the grants are lost. Construction would need to start in October.

Colwood Coun. Shaun Wysiecki, who is a member of the WSPR board of directors, suggested owner municipalities – Langford, Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin, Highlands and the Juan de Fuca electoral area – dedicate federal gas tax money toward the project.

If owners won’t pay, Colwood has volunteered to pay for the entire project with its gas tax money, Wysiecki said, although that is yet to be approved by the city council.

“We know energy costs are going up, natural gas that is used to heat the pool will go up,” he said. “We can switch to a (heating) technology that hopefully will give the same efficiency but without the costs.”

A Colwood report to the WSPR board estimated the solar system would save 10 per cent of the cost of heating the pool, or about $9,000 per year. Over 20 years, the system would save $327,000 in natural gas costs and $27,000 in provincial carbon taxes, which will start in 2012.

The proposal will start making the rounds at West Shore councils over the next two weeks for discussion, and as some hope at WSPR, approval.

Wysiecki said this project gives West Shore municipalities a chance to invest gas tax funds into a project that will see a financial return. “It definitely is a long-term thing,” he said. “If the municipalities look at this as a revenue generator, I hope that will get them onboard.”

WSPR board chair Les Bjola said the grant approvals from Solar BC and EcoEnergy came suddenly and with short timelines, after a long delay with a solar heating consultant. He acknowledged that getting the six owners to unanimously agree on capital spending has been difficult.

Bjola called the $73,000 grants “found money” and the project a good opportunity for the municipalities to reduce annual operating costs for WSPR. “If gas tax money is available for this project, it makes really good sense for the municipalities.”

Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders, who sits on the WSPR board, said the rec centre needs to start thinking about how it will pay for impending carbon taxes. The expected tax rate is $25 per ton of carbon dioxide.

Metchosin Coun. Moralea Milne and Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton told the WSPR board their respective councils are considering using their gas tax to help fund a new Johnston Street train bridge, although nothing is set in stone.

“It’s a good idea at the wrong time,” Milne said.

The five councils and the JDF area director will need to OK using gas tax money to pay for the solar thermal system, or at least not overtly object to Colwood or a partnership of municipalities funding the project. If a single owner objects, the proposal will die on the drawing board.

“With anything at (WSPR), if one of the six says ‘no,’ it’s too bad, so sad,” Wysiecki said.

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