Second Opinion

John Dorn is a retired tech entrepreneur living in Summerland

Usually the members of Summerland Council are in “lock-step” on most issues. On the proposed solar-and-storage project, not so much.

Coun. Richard Barkwill has gone rogue by criticizing the project in the popular press. There will be a public meeting/presentation on Monday July 13, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Summerland Arena banquet hall.

To recap, the District of Summerland received $6 million from the federal gas-tax fund to create a solar array with battery storage to displace power purchased from Fortis. The proposed site is on a hillside property owned by the District on the west side of town. Summerland is obligated to contribute $980,000 towards the project not including the land.

The District has issued a document titled “Solar & Storage Q&A.”

The document has some flaws.

The project is expected to save the Summerland electrical utility $200,000 a year which roughly gives the taxpayers of Summerland a return on investment/payback period of four to five years. Some politicians have forgotten there is only one taxpayer. The $6 million from the federal government was paid by somebody’s taxes. If the total cost is considered the payback period is closer to 28 years.

The 2014 Summerland municipal election was the “land-swap” election. The citizens of Summerland voted overwhelming against building on flat agricultural land and for building on the hillsides. The proposed site for the solar array is on a piece of property that could be economically serviced by sewer, power, water and natural gas increasing its potential for residential development.

If it is not developed for building sites, it essentially blocks future development to the west. When the sewer was extended in 1999 along Prairie Valley Road, it was over-sized to accommodate growth in the west. Summerland does not have much developable land other than to the west.

There is only so much infill available. Hunter’s Hills to the north would be attractive once the sewer system is hooked up.

This parcel of land for solar is designated as part of the Urban Growth Area.

There is a lack of affordable housing in Summerland, and the removal of this parcel of land aggravates the situation. We can not look to property developers to create affordable housing as their goal is to maximize profits for the investors, which means expensive buildings to exploit scarce land. Affordable housing only exists if government contributes land, buildings or both.

Some of this land could have obtainable row houses or town homes on it.

In the District’s financial justification, it conveniently omits any future income from a combination of the sale of the property, development fees or missed property taxes during the 25-year life span of the project. Life span of the array is estimated to be 25 years, after which it would be taken away, hopefully re-cycled. Wave goodbye to the $2.8 million in unrecoverable sunk costs installation, engineering, design and construction.

There are also questions regarding the financial practicality of using batteries for emergency backup should the Fortis supply fail. Hopefully, more information will be available at the meeting on Monday.

The project can not even be justified as a green initiative as it is just displacing clean hydro-generated electricity. I would be happier if the $6 million was sent back to the federal government to give to a municipality to displace coal-generated power.

In closing, Coun. Barkwill pointed out the lack of transparency in choosing the site of the project. This important meeting was closed to the public. The staff report was only made available to council that same day. Input from the Advisory Planning Committee was not solicited either.

Council has now has the chance to have a “do-over” at the upcoming public meeting. I hope it is well attended both in person and live-streamed.

John Dorn is a retired tech entrepreneur who resides in Summerland.