Kimberley’s SunMine solar project is a popular topic of discussion around the City. The SunMine has 4,032 solar-cell modules, mounted on 96 solar trackers which follow the sun’s movement. It is B.C.’s largest solar project, Canada’s largest solar tracking facility, and the first solar project in B.C. to sell power to the BC Hydro grid.
The SunMine cost $5.3 million to construct, with $2 million contributed by Teck, as well as land and site infrastructure.
To date, the revenue from the SunMine back to BC Hydro is $95,485 from 926.4 Megawatts.
A report to council from City of Kimberley Chief Administrative Officer, Scott Sommerville states that rates received per megawatt generated decline in the spring/summer months when hydroelectric generation is plentiful. Production in April was less than expected, while May and June were above expectations.
Mayor Don McCormick says the original plan was for Kimberley to sell their interest in the SunMine to generate cash for infrastructure, “the thought was the SunMine would still be there, there would just be a change in ownership.”
However, the City of Kimberley is still looking for partners to invest in the SunMine, it is not looking to sell the project.
At a regular City Council meeting on Monday, July 24 council discussed the current situation with the SunMine after considerable public interest in energy production and revenue generation for the City of Kimberley.
“Seven of the 96 tracker motors have failed due to the build up of condensation in the housing. Replacement motors have been ordered but are not under warranty. These seven panels have been locked in the table top position to avoid wind damage,” says the report.
Somerville says the cost of the repairs is $11,450 but the City does not know how much time it will take to install.
Councillor Darryl Oakley says he would like to know, and let the public know, what the cost of running the SunMine is.
“I know there’s other issues with the sun mine and I think, from my perspective, I’d like to see not only the performance of the facility in terms of energy as it goes down to the grid, but I think it’s time given that some of the warranties are up, that we start to let the public know what the costs are now. To run the facility and to replace some of these parts. I think it’s important [that] people know. I think it just goes hand in hand – what’s the cost to running the SunMine,” asked Oakley.
Councillor Albert Hoglund said, “this is a question on the same issue. When those motors fail is it possible to leave the panels in a position where they are still facing the sun and getting power? I see in the report it says they put it in the [tabletop] position to avoid wind damage, do they lay them down or?”
Sommerville replied, “our concern is that if they’re set facing the sun that a windstorm, like we had last night, would blow them over. So normally when they are tracking, the wind sensor will tilt them flat like they are now. They’re still receiving sunshine in the flat position, it’s just not optimal.
Councillor Kent Goodwin added, “because it’s mid-summer and the sun is right over head much of the day, even the ones in the tabletop are still getting pretty significant power. But in the morning and the evening they tend to loose it [power].”
Sommerville said, “Once those motors are repaired – I wrote this report back on July 6 – but it’s in the neighbourhood of $11,450, for all seven, but we don’t know how much time it will take to install them and do the replacement so we will bring back costs on that.”
Councillor Oakley then asked if some of the failures that are happening with the equipment are specific to Kimberley’s site; if it’s a result of the specific location.
Sommerville replied, “I would say yes. My first SunMine meeting I said you’re going to have moving parts in this climate – it’s a really harsh climate to have electric motors working. So, I haven’t heard of these issues happening, and the company that supplied the motors hasn’t had these issues at any of their other sites.”
“And their other sites are mostly southern locations, I’m assuming?” asked Oakley.
“So it’s probably appropriate to remind [everyone] that the reason why we have the dual trackers is because it was a condition of the grant – the clean energy fund grant,” said Mayor Don McCormick. “Part of what they wanted was to collect data on exactly wether this is or isn’t going to work, and we’re doing that.”
Sommerville added, “Originally we were going to buy single axis trackers, which only tracked one direction, so they basically threw in a second axis for free. So having that second axis isn’t really costing us money, relative to the original design, but it is lowering our production.”
“At this point it seems as though the issue has been moisture; condensation. So it seems fair to say that some of them are working different because some are wet and some are dry,” said Councillor Sandra Roberts. “Is there a way to make sure that that doesn’t happen? Is there a way to figure out what causes that condensation in those particular motors to prevent it?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what we’d be looking into,” replied Sommerville.
“Should we be successful in tracking a partner and doing an extension of the sun mine, it would be good to have a discussion about fixed [panels] vs. tracking our rays at that point,” said Goodwin. “To see whether any future expansion should be of the same kind or different. I think that’s worth talking about.”
“I’d be very surprised if anyone did the tracking system. The performance would have to be pretty compelling,” said Sommerville with regards to potential investment from a partner.
“If you have lots of land you can just add more fixed panels,” added Goodwin.
“So I think the good news here is that the first megawatt, in terms of the pilot, has shown us some things. The expansion of the second megawatt we’ll be able to take into account our experience from that and hopefully as we move forward with this thing it will get more reliable,” said McCormick. “It’s also important to recognize that solar technology is still in its infancy. Even though it’s been around for a couple or more decades, the fact remains that in a commercial production environments, it’s still very much a learning experience with where it’s all going. So we’re part of that learning experience.”