City looks at dabbling in solar energy

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The City of Winnipeg may soon try to pinpoint new sites to generate solar power, with the goal of using green energy in civic buildings.

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The City of Winnipeg may soon try to pinpoint new sites to generate solar power, with the goal of using green energy in civic buildings.

A new motion headed to the water, waste and environment committee calls upon the public service to identify city-owned properties suitable for generating solar power and complete a business case to develop up to one megawatt of renewable energy generation for city use.

“(The report will determine) could we economically do this and where could we economically try and do this. The idea is not so much to sell (the power) back into the grid for profit but to use it for our own structures,” said Coun. Brian Mayes, committee chairman.

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Lorena Mitchell, chairwoman of the Manitoba Sustainable Energy Association, said the city should become a leader in seeking out green energy sources.

Mayes, who raised the motion, said the report would also help determine the potential cost, benefits and savings the city could attain by adding solar projects.

“It’s an attempt to say, ‘Can we do something cost-efficient here to harness green energy?’” he said. “We’ve got these big arenas that use so much energy. Can we try to co-ordinate something there?”

The councillor said the call to seek green energy sources would act on an election pledge from Mayor Scott Gillingham. His campaign set a goal for Winnipeg to build “at least” one megawatt of renewable energy generation capacity by 2026.

Mayes’ motion also calls for the city to determine if it could work with Winnipeg school divisions on solar power efforts. For example, the city could use excess power from division-based solar projects or partner up on new initiatives with the divisions, he said.

Mayes said a solar project already under construction at Collège Jeanne-Sauvé, which is next to the city-owned Louis Riel Library, and a separate proposal to add some solar power at J. H. Bruns Collegiate, which is next to the city-owned Southdale Community Centre, convinced him the city should explore that option.

“Those are both projects right next to city buildings… Could we not try to co-operate with the school divisions and maybe we could do something together?” said Mayes.

Lorena Mitchell, chairwoman of the Manitoba Sustainable Energy Association, said the city should become a leader in seeking out green energy sources.

“Having larger entities like the City of Winnipeg putting their best foot forward and showing that they’re ready to implement strategies working towards (green power), it’s really good to see that they’re taking this seriously,” said Mitchell.

While Manitoba relies heavily on hydroelectric power, Mitchell said it’s critical that governments diversify energy supplies to help them cope with climate change. As extreme weather events become more common, such as intense winter storms that can knock out hydro power for thousands of customers at a time, she believes solar energy sources have the potential to create backup energy supply.

“We’re facing more and more… extreme weather occurrences, and jumping from drought one year to (flooding) the next… I think we need to strengthen our grid and make it less vulnerable,” said Mitchell.

That’s especially important in and around Winnipeg, where power outages can knock out heating sources during potentially deadly cold snaps, she said. (Manitoba Hydro’s website notes most natural gas furnaces still require electricity to operate.)

Mitchell said alternative power sources could be prioritized for places such as extreme weather shelters to help better protect people during frigid temperatures.

If the water and waste committee approves the solar power motion on Friday, a report on possible generation sites will be due in about six months.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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