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Posted: July 7, 2014

A bright day for Kimberley

It was fittingly sunny in Kimberley this morning (July 7) when dignitaries broke ground at the SunMine.

The $5.3 million solar project, utilizing the southern slope of reclaimed Teck land on the eastern edge of the City of Kimberley, has been six years in the making and when complete will provide power for about 200 homes.

Using more than 4,000 solar-cell modules mounted on 96 solar trackers that follow the sun’s movement, SunMine, a 1.05 megawatt power plant, will be the largest solar power project in Western Canada. Power will be sold to BC Hydro’s grid.

The “extraordinary project” is the result of “unprecedented partnerships,” said City of Kimberley Mayor Ron McRae during a press conference at the Kimberley Conference and Athlete Training Centre.

The city is providing $2 million in borrowed funds for the project, following the 2011 referendum supported by a majority of Kimberley residents.

Along with providing the brownfield land for the project, Teck is also providing $2 million.

B.C.’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund program is also chipping in with $1 million, through the EcoSmart Foundation, a Vancouver-based non-profit foundation promoting economically and ecologically smart projects between public and private sectors.

Rounding out the project funding partners are Columbia Basin Trust (Trust) and the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust, arriving to the rescue after the federal government opted to bail in its support of the project.

SunMine is community owned, distinct and well suited to capitalize on Kimberley’s clear and sunny conditions, McRae stated.

He called Kimberley a “smart and innovative” community and pointed out that the referendum produced “an overwhelming majority” of support from residents.

“The SunMine is a promising project. It is is a homegrown community solution,” he said. “SunMine aligns with the community’s values associated with environment, community and a history of innovation and resilience. We’re creating the future, not awaiting it, and this project shows we mean business.”

Minister of Energy of Mines Bill Bennett didn’t have to go far from his Kootenay East base of Cranbrook to take part in the ceremonial launch of SunMine.

“This is exactly the type of forward-thinking project the ICE Fun was created to help support,” he said. “The City of Kimberley and the EcoSmart Foundation should be proud to be installing the first B.C. grid-connected solar plant on a brownfield mine site.”

Bennett commented how he appreciates the “synergy” involved in the project, with reclaimed mine land being used to house a modern energy project.

“It has a very important, symbolic importance,” he said, suggesting it is onward and upward as technology will continue to improve, as long as governments and the private sector are willing to invest. “I think you will see this project grow in scope over the next few years.”

Teck president and CEO Don Lindsay agreed with McRae and Bennett.

“SunMine is an innovative use of a former mine site and is an excellent example of a collaborative partnership supporting sustainable, vibrant communities. Our interest in SunMine also reflects Teck’s commitment to alternative sources of energy.”

EcoSmart Foundation president and CEO Michel de Spot, a driving force behind the concept and project, said there are three key reasons for the project being situated in Kimberley – “location, location and location.”

He explained that the available sunlight, land and people engaged are the three keys.

“Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industries in North America. The first large scale solar power plant in Western Canada, SunMine is a game changer. EcoSmart is proud to collaborate with Teck and Kimberley,” de Spot said.

“Knowledge and experience gained from this innovative project will help develop local skills and make solar energy a viable option for B.C.’s generating portfolio. The solar energy potential in B.C. – and in particular the East Kootenay – is exceptional. Let’s put it to work,” he said.

Of note, Kimberley has 300 plus days of sunshine a year.

Doug Little, BC Hydro vice-president of Energy Planning and Economic Development, confirmed that SunMine is the first solar project to sign an electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro, fitting well into its Standing Offer Program.

“The program offers a simple, streamlined process to allow small, clean energy projects to feed electricity into BC Hydro’s grid.”

Trust president and CEO Neil Muth was also on hand for the groundbreaking, noting the project neatly fits the Trust’s guiding principles.

“One of our guiding principles is collaboration and we commend the community and all of the partners involved on their collaborative efforts and commitment to this project,” he said.

Kimberley chief administrative officer Scott Sommerville said the project will do more than just generate power.

SunMine will benefit the regional economy through increased visibility and awareness, with engineering and project experience garnered giving people in the area a competitive edge for future initiatives in the growing renewable energy market, the city noted in a press release.

Coenergy Canada, selected as the prime contractor following a bid process, has already started work at the site.

Minister Bennett noted another benefit of the project is the construction jobs created and when finished, site maintenance work.

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Ian Cobb/e-KNOW

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