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Solar on a Strata - Our Vote

Bruce Mackenzie
Friday, February 27, 2015
Proposal passes 3/4 vote
Ecofoot 2 ballasted solar panel mounting system

This is a continuation of the story in Solar on a Strata ?

As planned, our strata Annual General Meeting was on February 25. We had just enough owners and proxies for a quorum under our bylaws - 22. Half of the meeting was quite routine - review of the budget, some small extra expenditures on paint, plumbing, and an asbestos report. The big topic was the Solar on a Strata proposal.

My goal with this blog is to provide a 'road map' for other stratas, so I'm going to go into the details here.

Mike Geldreich - the electrician who gave us a quote - attended and helped to answer questions.

I presented a PowerPoint deck - there's a link on this page - that tried to clarify

  • How a solar PV system works
  • How net metering works
  • Why our building is ideal
  • Why it's a good idea now, when it wasn't in previous years
  • Concerns such as maintenance, roof weight, snow load, wind damage, roof replacement
  • How we measure electricity, and how much the system will generate
  • How much we will save on electricity, and therefor the simple rate of Return on Investment (ROI)
  • The price includes ALL costs of installation
  • How the cost will be paid off, and how it breaks down per strata and per month
  • A REALTOR's opinion from veteran Donna Curtis
  • Why it hasn't been done before in Victoria, and that we have a chance to 'make history'

We had over half an hour of discussion on it, before the vote which needed 3/4 of the people and proxies present in the room to pass. Our building manager counted three times, and the vote was 18 to 6.

What was important to the owners ?

Finance was the main focus in the discussion. We had a firm quote, so the questions were around how much energy and money we could save. Our property manager Paul Merrien pointed out that the 5% - 6% ROI was much better than what you get in a bank.

There was one owner who was very concerned about whether we have enough money in our Reserve Fund and financial plan to deal with possible future upgrades to the elevator. This seemed like a distraction that lasted several minutes, but she told me after the meeting that she needed to know, and voted in favour once that was clarified. Because every vote counted, I'm glad we took the time.

It would be interesting to know why people voted for it, and against. Many seemed to agree with the REALTOR that it showed we care about our building, and could add at least the system cost per unit ($555 - $865) to the value of their unit when it is time to sell, especially to the younger, urban population our building attracts. Many see solar energy as the future and just like it.

One owner voted no because he felt he couldn't afford the extra monthly cost. There were two people in the room with 'no' proxies who thought that the owners they represented might have voted 'yes' if they had heard the full story, but followed the owners' instructions. I think there were two 'no' votes by owners present who I didn't get a chance talk to about their decision.

What went well

  • So far, I'm guessing I've put around 70 hours into this, and the slides took about 20 hours to organise, get the images, and make sure they were clear. It was critical to answer all possible worries about the system right there in the room.  The 26-page AGM notice included a four-pager about the system with most of what I said at the meeting, but most owners didn't read it and came to the meeting to learn and decide on the spot.
  • Our owners get along. People were respectful and listened to each other.
  • I was the 'champion' in project management terminology. I took total responsiblity to learn everything the owners might want to know about the system, and summarised it in a way that made sense to them. There had to be a well-researched, clear answer to every question from the owners in the room.
  • The strata council members were supportive and encouraging and like the project.
  • Even though they were thinly attended, the two Information Sessions ahead of time swayed a few owners who could ask questions in an informal setting. Unfortunately, only owners leaning towards a 'yes' vote attended them. And a couple of people who just happened to pass by.
  • We had a good turnout. Some years, our meetings must proceed even without the 21 votes which are a quorum under our bylaws. The large expenditure and novelty of the solar system drew more owners out.
  • Mike backed up the cautious nature of my estimates of power production and future BC Hydro rate increases, suggesting we might do better. I reined him in a couple of times when he got carried away technically, but his enthusiasm was authentic and the I think the owners trusted his experience.
  • The cost per unit for a PV system on a strata (around $750 in our case) is so much more affordable than the cost on an individual home. Mike said that $5K is about minimum for any grid-tied system. Also, we financed it from the Reserve fund, so the cost will be $10-$15/month for five years, where a single family homeowner might have to pay up front.
  • The support from the property manager was critical. Owners respect them as impartial professionals and look to them for advice.

What I'd change next time

  • I don't live in the building - my unit is rented. It would be really good to have a well-informed advocate who lives in the building to meet people in the hallways, lobby and laundry to answer their fears and questions long before the meeting. A 'no' proxy can't be persuaded at the meeting.
  • There was a lot of uncertainty about whether this expense would jeopardise the ability of the strata to respond to emergency expenditures, or upcoming maintenance in the Depreciation Report (that's like a 30 year maintenance plan for the building, prepared professionally, required by the Strata Act). Some stratas prepare a five or ten year implementation plan and budget for the expenses in that Report as a regular exercise. If that had been 'in hand' at the meeting, it would have given the owners more certainty about how the solar system cost fit in the longer term budget.
  • I am wondering whether it would have been useful, near the end of the discussion, to invite any 'no' votes in the room to talk about their reasons. There may have been doubts by people who felt intimidated by the consensus, and didn't have their concerns answered.

What's next

  • The AGM vote is final, so unless there is a technical problem or something totally unforeseen, council can proceed with the installation.
  • A couple of the owners rightly asked about other bids, so we'll try to get another quote.
  • We need to have a structural engineer officially approve the (small) extra weight on the roof. 
  • I hope we proceed quickly and get this system working.

Next in the series: Engineering Approval