Kimberley’s Former Mine Site Becomes Home to the Largest Solar Project in BC
In 2015, the City of Kimberley BC began commercial operation of SunMine, the province’s first municipally-owned utility-scale solar facility.
SunMine is the first solar project in the province to sell power directly to the grid through BC Hydro’s Net Metering program. The project has allowed the community to utilize the Sullivan mine’s now fully reclaimed brownfields and make use of existing transmission infrastructure that once served the mine.
The City of Kimberley’s SunMine is one of the largest solar projects in British Columbia and the first municipally-owned utility-scale solar facility. The facility was completed in 2015 and started commercial operation on June 22nd of that year producing enough to power about 250 homes at peak production. The location chosen for the project contained brownfields that have been fully reclaimed by Teck and donated for the the SunMine project along with the existing infrastructure. This site presented few opportunities for any productive, tax-generating use but now includes 96 sun-tracking solar masts, each with 42 solar modules for a grand total of 4,032 modules.
The new mine provides an opportunity to assess the technology. It is the first solar project in Western Canada to utilize tracking technology, allowing the facility to increase energy production earlier and later in the day. Trackers also help align the panels to season shifts in the height of the sun above the horizon.
So far, the solar project is collecting 40% more energy than traditional, fixed solar projects. It is expected that these results will encourage the development of other solar projects around the province. The City is currently seeking partners to expand the project to the point where it is capable of producing 15 Megawatts. Kimberley’s Mayor, Don McCormick, claims that the site has the potential to reach 200 Megawatts. This infographic illustrates how the SunMine facility works.
Energy Savings/GHG reductions
At the current capacity, SunMine can power about 250 homes. Over the first 2.5 years of production (up to end of December 2017), the SunMine generated 4419 MWh, or 89.6% of anticipated energy production. Monitoring software records show that the project helped the city avoid 2.5 tonnes of NOx, 1770.8 tonnes of CO2, and 6.4 tonnes of SO2 over the same period (as estimated using US national energy generation and emissions factors).
This project makes use of fully reclaimed brownfields and existing infrastructure from the operations of the old Sullivan mine. It provides a new tax base for the City in an area with limited options for use.
SunMine’s $5.35 million facility cost was covered through various funding mechanisms that include: $1M Provincial Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) grant, $2M financial contribution as well as land and infrastructure donation from Teck, the company which formerly operated the Sulivan mine, $300,000 donation by the Columbia Basin Trust, and $50,000 provided by the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust. After citizens of the Kimberley voted 76% in favour in referendum, a final $2 million was borrowed by the city to support the project that will be repaid with the revenue from the sale of renewable energy to BC Hydro.
The SunMine makes use of BC Hydro’s Net Metering program, which enables electricity to be added the grid when facility generates more than the current need and credits to be redeemed when the need exceeds the supply. The facility currently produces enough electricity at the peak production to power about 250 homes and the electricity is sold to the BC Hydro grid made possible through Net Metering program.
Kimberley residents believe that there is now sufficient evidence that the technology works and has begun seeking investors to expand the project to point where SunMine is producing up to 15 megawatts or more.
Additional detail on the business case can be in the project’s business plan is available online.
The project has increased the town’s visibility which has been credited with improving tourism in the area.
Educating the Public about Green Energy
Since opening, over 1,000 people have toured the facility, including students from the local elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as College of the Rockies and Selkirk College. In addition, over 200 articles written have been written about the project, and over 14,000 unique visitors have browsed the website.
Support for Innovative Green Energy Technologies
The SunMine project was the first project in Western Canada to utilize tracking technology. The engineering and project experience is expected to garner the region a competitive edge for future initiatives in the growing renewable energy market.
Since opening, SunMine and its partners have won the following awards:
- Community of the Year Award by Clean Energy BC, 2015
- Union of BC Municipalities, 2015 Community Excellence Award for Leadership and Innovation in Green Initiatives
- The Sustainability Award from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC
- The National Award for an Engineering Project or Achievement from Engineers Canada.
- 2016 Collaboration Award in this year’s Community Energy Association Climate & Energy Action Awards
- 2017 Clean 50 award for outstanding contributions to clean capitalism
- 2017 Brownie Award for Best Large-Scale Project from Canadian Brownfields Network
Consult Experts Early
Engaging the right experts early would have helped the City get the specifications defined early in the project and save time and money in the long run. The original estimate was “a twoonie a watt” and turned out to be a “fiver”.
Have a Healthy Contingency
An project that is the “first of it’s kind” should have a contingency for unexpected complications. For SunMine, it turned out that there was a delay when spare parts needed to be ordered. If there had been a contingency, a small inventory of spare parts would have been readily on hand.
Local government contact
Chief Administrative Officer City of Kimberley