By David Dodge and Scott Rollans
The small community of Hudson’s Hope, B.C. is big on solar, thanks to a $1.3 million contract to install solar on just about every public building in town. It’s the latest major project of Peace Energy Cooperative, Western Canada’s oldest renewable energy co-op, based in Dawson Creek.
The initiative was sparked by one local resident, says Hudson’s Hope mayor Gwen Johansson. “He had just decided that as his statement for a livable planet that he would put some solar on his roof—and put on quite a large array. And he ended up putting more electricity into the hydro grid than he took out.” A facebook post by the resident featuring a cheque from the utility captured a lot of attention.
In that one project Johansson saw a potential vision for the community as a whole.
The municipality is comprised of roughly 1,100 residents spread across 927 square kilometres. It was able to access a Federal Gas Tax Fund grant. The Peace Energy Cooperative was contracted to evaluate the community’s potential for solar power. “I did the math and the Peace Energy Co-op did the math and we could see that, if we had solar panels, we would be reducing the amount of electricity that we have to purchase and it would result in considerable savings,” says Johansson.
This seems ironic because B.C. is known for cheap electricity, but that’s all changing with recent increases. “We know that electricity prices like everything else continue to go up for instance there’s a 3 per cent rate increase,” on April 1, says Johansson.
In 2017 Peace Energy Co-op was contracted to install roof-mounted solar arrays on eight municipal buildings throughout Hudson’s Hope, plus a ground-mounted array at the local sewage treatment lagoons. It’s a small system, but perhaps the highest per capita for a municipality in British Columbia.
Peace Energy Coop cut its teeth with big wind project
Peace Energy Cooperative traces its roots back to 2002, when wind prospectors were first starting to sniff around northeastern B.C. Up until then, the region’s natural resources, mostly oil and gas were largely controlled by big companies.
In wind power, a pair of Dawson Creek businessmen spotted a chance to change that dynamic. “This time maybe some of the local people could actually own some of that over the long term, rather just get a job working for some big corporation—then they all leave and that’s the end of it,” recalls Don Pettit, now Peace Energy vice president.
The co-op set up in 2003, just in time to snap up a land lease near town. “That’s what got us started on the development of Bear Mountain Wind Park,” Pettit recalls. With expertise from Aeolis Wind and a $200 million partnership with AltaGas, the project grew to B.C.’s first large wind project. It consists of 34 three-megawatt turbines along a ridge just 12 km from Dawson Creek. At 102 megawatts, it earned Dawson Creek the nickname “the first wind-powered city.”
Since then, the co-op has grown to nearly 500 members, each of them devoted to the concept of renewable energy. Along the way, it expanded its scope to embrace solar energy as well. “You can make a lot of electricity from the wind and the sun—with no pollution and a reasonable return on your investment,” says Pettit. “Why wouldn’t you do that?”
The co-op has made a major impact on the entire region—educating the public, running training programs for solar installers, and building a thriving business selling and installing solar energy systems. Among its members are city councillors and even a former mayor of Dawson Creek.
So, when the mayor of Hudson’s Hope caught the solar bug, her community (159 km from Dawson Creek) naturally turned to Peace Energy Co-op for expertise. The town now boasts more than 500 kilowatts of grid-tied solar PV, cutting the district’s electricity costs by approximately $70,000 per year. Over the next 30 years, those savings will add up to over $2 million.
With dramatic results like those, word has spread throughout northeastern B.C. “It’s put Hudson’s Hope on the map,” says Johansson. “When I took it to the Mayors’ conference in Prince George, where all of the northern mayors were gathered, there was a lot of interest there in in doing something similar.”
When small communities think globally, and act locally, their vision can prove contagious.