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Renfrew community garden idea taps solar energy

In 2019, the term Calgary community garden has taken on a whole meaning.

Instead of bunches of plants tended to by community members, modern community gardens are a lot less organic and much more green.

In January 2019, the Small Scale Generation Regulation came into effect, an NDP bill which allowed for grants to be given for green energy projects. Grants – awarded by the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre – provide “funding and network formation assistance” to create community-based renewable energy centres.

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The Renfrew Community Association was awarded one of these grants. Community association volunteer Paul Gill describes himself as the champion of the solar garden. Gill said the grant will cover things like feasibility studies and town hall meetings – the upfront costs.

This, he said, takes the risk out of looking into creating a community solar garden.

Other gardens can use the research created by Renfrew exploring theirs. Gill said, even if this solar garden doesn’t get built, the project will still make a difference.

“At least you’ve gotten people aware. There’s been open houses, people have talked about it, people know about it and the need for it. So we’ve had a huge community impact,” said Gill.

How would the solar community garden work?

Gill said the Renfrew project is still in very early stages. Research is needed on the location of the garden and the amount of energy it will produce.

On a broad scale, interested investors would pay upfront to buy into the solar garden. That investment would be slowly paid back. He thinks buyers would still pay their regular Enmax bill, and would get a separate return on their investment from the solar garden.

There’s many different ways the solar garden can come together. Part of what the grant would cover choosing the right solar garden method for the community. Some of those variables will be determined by how many people want to buy into the solar garden.

Gill said he hopes to get a solar array that will produce 1 megawatt of energy, but that amount isn’t set in stone. According to the Centre Star Energy website, Calgary would provide better solar power conditions than somewhere further north, like Edmonton.

“The average home in Alberta uses 7200 kWh/per year,” the website states.

“That same system [1 megawatt of solar energy] installed near Calgary would power up to 200 homes due to southern Alberta’s better solar resources.”

There’s a chance the Renfrew solar garden won’t happen. Much like the other project uncertainties, the completion of this garden depends on how many people are willing to invest.

Residents in the area will have their chance to provide input. A drop-in open house has been scheduled June 26 from 5 to 9 p.m.