Colwood solar program will nick taxpayers

  • Jun. 3, 2011 2:00 p.m.

Solar Colwood isn’t exactly the free-money deal the City expected.

Coun. Judith Cullington said she originally thought a $3.9 million federal grant would cover the full cost of the three-year home retrofit program, and that taxpayers wouldn’t pay a dime.

But when the Colwood finance department took a closer look, it estimated the City will pay $17,000 in interest on a loans used to cover upfront costs the federal government will reimburse. Colwood will also pay $14,400 per year to cover a portion of the tax on products and services it buys for the project.

“These are the only two things that will be paid out of tax revenue,” Cullington said.

Spread over four budget years, the toll on taxpayers is $8,800 per year, equivalent to a 0.09 per cent municipal tax increase.

The City will also allocate to the project $449,600 worth of existing resources as in-kind contributions, which Cullington said doesn’t add any new costs to the City budget. More than half the expense is for staff time, and the rest is costing out revenue-loss for discounted services.

For example, to offer half-price building permits to project participants, Colwood is giving up $76,000 in potential revenue, but it will still make a profit overall from the surge in permit sales. The City is also providin two project co-ordinators office space at city hall worth $65,000.

“We’re going to get a good return on our investment, and so is the community,” Cullington said. “This project is all about creating jobs in our community and helping homeowners reduce their energy bills.”

Solar Colwood, which launches officially on June 11, will offer 1,000 residents discounts and logistical support to install solar hot water heaters or other energy-saving retrofits in their homes.

The program will also fund energy upgrades at the Colwood fire hall, installation of rapid charging stations for electric cars and solar panels in the future Colwood Corners development to create 10 units with net-zero energy use.

Cullington believes the project will help put Colwood on the map as a leader in home-scale clean energy and that the economic benefits will trickle down through the community. But some remain critical.

An anonymous newsletter was delivered to Colwood homes this week criticizing the City for initiating the Solar Colwood project without consulting residents. It’s one of many similar mail outs in recent months attacking municipal spending.

Mayor Dave Saunders said he plans to initiate a defamation lawsuit against a Colwood resident allegedly linked to the anonymous mail outs.

Because of the potential legal dispute — which, he was quick to note, he’s paying for out of pocket, not from City coffers — Saunders said he wouldn’t comment on the content of the recent mail out.

However Cullington said the numbers in the letter were overblown and don’t capture the complexity of costing out the project, which requires determining dollar values for things already accounted for in the City budget, such as staff time.

“We’re already paying our staff whether they work on this or something else … they’re not paid extra to work on Solar Colwood,” Cullington said, noting that in fact staff and councillors such as herself have worked many unpaid hours to get the project off the ground.

“It’s time well spent,” she said. “We’re creating a model for others communities to follow.”


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