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Solar Colwood helps First Nation youth

On the roof of a Colwood home, Edward Hale tightens the bolts on a newly installed solar panel and pulls off the protective covering.
Edward Hale removes the protective covering from a solar panel installed as part of Solar Colwood. A member of the T'Sou-ke First Nation

On the roof of a Colwood home, Edward Hale tightens the bolts on a newly installed solar panel and pulls off the protective covering.

“Let’s get off this roof,” he calls out to two men helping with the job.

And with that, the 19th solar hot water system installed through Solar Colwood is up and running.

The homeowner, Colwood Coun. Judith Cullington who spearheaded the federally funded green energy program, watched the installation from her deck.

“This is part of my retirement plan. I’m buying hot water for the future,” said Cullington, who expects savings on her energy bill will pay for the cost of the system, while increasing her home’s resale value.

But there’s more for Cullington to celebrate than her own energy savings.

During the municipal election, Solar Colwood was a political hot potato that a group of unsuccessful candidates vowed to shut down. But a tough month defending the program paid off, as it’s future now appears secure.

“There was a lot of misinformation out there,” she lamented. “I’m glad to have it behind me.”

At the heart of the controversy was the amount the program costs tax payers. Initially a $3.9 million federal grant was expected to cover the full cost of Solar Colwood. During the program’s launch event Cullington said residents would pay nothing, a claim she has since revised to “almost nothing.”

Colwood will pay $31,400 over four years, about $5 per household, for the program.

Opponents of the project argue it eats up municipal resources, such as staff time and office space at city hall. Adding those costs into the price of the program makes it look like more of a financial burden, though those services are considered to be “in-kind” contributions and don’t add any costs to the City budget.

“The bottom line is Solar Colwood is a robust program and we’re continuing to move forward with it,” Cullington said. “There are so many that can benefit from this program. It’s something to be proud of.”

Coming down from Cullington’s roof, Hale is a prime example of somebody who’s benefited from Solar Colwood. A member of the T’Sou-ke First Nation, he is among 11 local aboriginal people who received training to be become a certified installer through the Canadian Solar Industries Association, with the cost paid for by Solar Colwood.

Hale has been hired on full time by Pacific Solar Smart Homes, one of Solar Colwood’s approved installers, which now needs more staff to keep up with demand.

Pacific Solar owner James Smyth said his work load has increased exponentially since Solar Colwood launched.

“We used to do two installs per month, now we’re doing two per week,” he said. “This industry is really incentive driven, the systems aren’t getting any cheaper ... We need programs like this to encourage people to buy the technology.”

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