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Small T'Sou-ke reserve one of most solar-power-intensive in country

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Saturday, July 18, 2009
Times Colonist

B.C. Hydro meters on the T'Sou-ke Nation reserve were whizzing around counter-clockwise yesterday as, nearby, the sun beat down on banks of solar panels.

The backward-spinning meters mean clean, surplus power is being returned to the electrical grid, helping to pay for the band's solar-power project.

"Look at how fast they are spinning. They really can go backwards," said elder Linda Bristol, who, like other band members, is proud that, after a year of intensive work on the project, the small reserve has turned into one of the most solar-power-intensive communities in the country.

"Instead of us sending B.C. Hydro a cheque each two months, they send us a cheque," said project manager Andrew Moore.

The 75-kilowatt T'Sou-ke project is the largest photovoltaic system -- producing electrical power from sunlight and silicon -- operating in B.C., Moore said.

About 37 homes on the reserve get hot water from solar panels on their roofs and almost all the remaining residents are on the waiting list. The aim is to equip all 86 homes on the reserve with the panels.

Bristol, whose home has one, said hot water is always plentiful. Although she is not yet sure how much she is saving personally, energy consumption on the reserve has dropped by 30 per cent over the last six months with the help of solar power, as well as conservation.

Banks of solar panels on the roof of the band office, decorated with First Nations designs, provide energy and store power in batteries for emergencies or cloudy days. At the end of the year, the band hopes the cost of power consumed will be offset by the power sold back to B.C. Hydro.

Nearby, close to the shore of Sooke Basin, the canoe shed and fisheries building rely almost entirely on solar power, a system that can be used in remote off-grid communities.

One of the bonuses is having power on the reserve when storms knock out the lights in the rest of Sooke, said 15-year-old Makayla Taylor. "It's amazing to have backup power," she said.

Another spinoff benefit has been training and certification of nine band members as solar-panel installers.

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