First large-scale solar power will hit BC Hydro grid in 2015

Image of solar panels under a sunny, blue sky

Kimberley, B.C., will be home to largest solar project west of Ontario

With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, it's no surprise that the City of Kimberley in the B.C. Rockies has its sights set on solar power.

Today, the city is an alpine ski resort with world-class recreation. But it wasn't always known for its breathtaking mountain views; for much of its history, Kimberley was a major mining town. The Sullivan Mine, owned by Teck, was once Canada's largest underground mine within city limits, and one of the largest lead-zinc mines in the world.

But by January 2015, the former Sullivan Mine site will house more than 4,000 solar-cell modules, as the home of SunMine, the largest solar project in western Canada, and the first one to have an electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro.

Vancouver-based non-profit organization EcoSmart Foundation led the initiative to transform this historic part of Kimberley into a solar farm. EcoSmart partnered with the City of Kimberley, which owns the project, and Teck, which contributed $2 million in funding and offered the former mine site, to develop SunMine. The project was made possible in part thanks to the ability to sell the clean energy generated back to BC Hydro.

Solar power project offers many firsts for renewable energy

Dina Matterson is a program manager for BC Hydro's Standing Offer program. She sees SunMine as not only the first larger-scale solar project to sign an agreement with BC Hydro, but also as the incredible story of a project that offers new life to a former contaminated mine site that has been fully reclaimed by Teck.

"To create something green like a solar farm out of a remediated and reclaimed mining site, that's a first in Canada," says Matterson.

When the project is complete, more than 4,000 solar-cell modules, mounted on 96 solar trackers which follow the sun's movement, will maximize solar exposure at the site. That makes it one of the first grid-connected solar photovoltaic installations in B.C, and the first large-scale project in Western Canada to use solar trackers.

SunMine ushers in new era for Standing Offer Program

Those 4,000 modules will generate approximately two gigawatt hours (2 GWh) per year in energy, which is enough to power about 200 homes. That's small compared to traditional hydroelectric generation and most of the power projects selling power under the Standing Offer Program. But as Matterson points out, the 1MW of SunMine is big when it comes to solar power in B.C.

"We have residential customers and smaller business customers installing solar power right now through our Net Metering program," Matterson says, citing examples of customers who have installed solar panels on the roof of their single-family homes. But SunMine is the first that will be selling power at a bigger scale.

It's also the first solar project to be owned by a municipality, something Matterson says that we can expect to see more of in the future.

"This will be the pioneer — other players will have the comfort to move forward with their own solar project once they see the success of this and they see that solar power can work in certain parts of B.C. We've heard from other organizations and regions that are interested in solar," Matterson says. She says colleges, municipalities, and some First Nations across B.C. have all expressed interest in starting their own solar projects.