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New Calgary charity aims to give the gift of free energy

A new Calgary charity wants to take the burden of electric bills away from charities by covering the cost for solar panel installation.

Heart and Solar was launched by two young Calgary lawyers in 2015. Jack Schroder and Randon Slaney said they wanted to give something back in a different way.

“We started to come up with ideas of what we wanted to do,” said Schroder. “We thought at the time it would be beneficial to have renewable projects that were being put towards increasing the ability of other charities to work within their financial bounds.”

Their idea was simple: Raise money to purchase, install and maintain rooftop solar panels for other charities.

The charity now has a board of directors with six members, and many volunteers.

Slaney said rather than just handing over cash to a good cause, solar panels will provide long-term savings for charities.

“Ultimately, the benefit is stability,” said Slaney. “Operating costs – keeping the lights on – is one of their biggest expenses on an ongoing basis.”

It took three years to get rolling, but Heart and Solar is getting ready to install its first panels – a 25 kilowatt system on the roof of Horizon Housing’s Glamorgan project.

That 161-unit building just opened this month and will provide affordable and supported housing for Calgarians in need.

Lisa Litz, director of stakeholder relations with Horizon Housing, explained that the panels will help them defray their costs for decades.

“We always want to build sustainably and for the long term, but there are costs that can be prohibitive with that sometimes,” she said.

Litz said once installed, the solar panels will offset the electricity usage for between 8 and 10 units. That may not sound like a lot in a 161-unit residence, but Litz said it will make a noticeable difference on their bottom line.

“It frees up cash for upgrades and renovations and things like that,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”

Even though the Glamorgan project just opened to its first tenants, Litz said they’re well prepared to add the solar panels on.

“We were really lucky because it was a new build,” she said. “It was easy to make modifications. It’s little things like putting reinforcements on the roof where the panels will be housed, so there’s appropriate supports in place.”

For their installation, Heart and Solar has teamed up with SkyFire Energy – a Calgary-based solar firm that does residential and commercial solar installation.

Dave Vonesch, COO of SkyFire Energy, said they’re working to do the installation for as low a cost as possible. They’re also offering a 25-year maintenance at no charge, which will cover the lifetime of the panels.

“We basically are providing a turn-key system,” said Vonesch.

He said SkyFire had talked about doing a project such as the one they’re about to undertake with Horizon Housing, but Heart and Solar helped make it happen.

Schroder said even in oil-rich Alberta, the business community sees the value in freeing charities from their power bills.

“We’ve had donations from several major oil and gas companies as well as several other companies that are heavily involved or tied to the oil and gas industry,” he said.

“Despite the fact that there may be differing ideological opinions with regards to renewables – so far it seems we’re in a supportive environment.”

He also said as far as climate goes, there are few better places to harness solar power across Canada than in southern Alberta.

“The solar resources in southern Alberta are superior to most of Canada and to most of Europe, where solar panels have been more widespread,” he said.

For now, Heart and Solar will be working with Calgary charities, but the pair say their work could expand into other parts of Alberta if the charity can continue to grow.