A design concept for a proposed solar array operated by the District of Summerland. 

Increasing demand for green energy equipment has translated into a 50% spike in the estimated cost of the Summerland Solar + Storage array, casting fresh doubt on the viability of the project.

Initially expected to cost $7 million – with $6 million of that to be covered by a federal grant and the balance from the local government’s reserves – the estimated price has now risen to $10.4 million, Summerland council learned at its meeting Tuesday.

The new estimate was derived from documents submitted by two qualified bidders that responded to a request for proposals run by the District of Summerland this past summer to actually build the one-megawatt solar farm, which was expected to generate enough power to supply 100 homes.

In light of the increased cost estimate, district staff on Monday put forward four options for council to consider: move forward with the project as planned and make up the $4.4-million difference through borrowing, dipping into reserves or postponing other capital project; scale back the battery array to reduce the cost to $9.9 million; go out to tender again with a firm $6 million price cap; or put the project on hold while seeking additional grants.

Complicating matters further, the project must be completed by September 2023 to collect the $6-million federal grant.

After two hours of discussion, council voted unanimously to re-tender the project with a firm $6-million cap and ask the federal government for permission to change the scope of approved work.

“I still believe that the solar and battery project in its location on Cartwright Mountain is a good idea and it’s unfortunate that it has come to a point where the budget is so high – and so COVID – that it doesn’t seem like it would be at all fair to try and impose that on the people when we have  lot of other projects that we need to do and we need to find ways to keep funding those things,” said Coun. Erin Carlson, who has been one of the project’s most vocal supporters.

“I do hope we can retain the $6 million and that we can do something that is going to improve the district-owned electrical utility and is going to create some resilience.”

The district earlier this year awarded a $250,000 contract to ATCO Power to design and oversee the project.

In a Nov. 15 to the district, ATCO engineer Chad Baxter pinned blame for the rising costs on major external factors.

“The pandemic has led to inflation, choked supply chains and increased shipping costs. Prices for raw materials such as copper, steel and silicon are at an all-time high… making (photovoltaic) modules, cabling and balance of plant more expensive,” wrote Baxter.

“A shortage of shipping containers and people to staff cargo vessels and delivery trucks is leading to delays and uncertainty of when supplies can arrive,” he continued, and the result has been “an overall price surge in the renewables market.”

As a result of the rising costs, ATCO is now projecting it will take 13 years for the project to pay for itself, rather than three years as estimated in 2019 by a different consulting firm.

It remains unclear how the cost spike will affect an ecovillage that has been proposed on the site of the Solar + Storage array. The district is in the early phases of drawing up designs and planning public consultation on the proposed 49-unit residential project that would help showcase the larger solar project.