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Residents still divided on placement of solar panels at community hall

by Chris Daponte

EDEN MILLS - News of successful grant and loan applications totalling $170,000 was met with resounding applause at the community hall here last week - but the room seemed divided on plans to proceed with solar panels at the site.

Tim Laing, who emceed the public meeting Nov. 22, said the village’s Millpond Conservation Association and  Community Club were recently awarded a $120,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The groups also received a $50,000 “incentive loan” from the Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation, added Laing, the project manager for proposed upgrades at the hall.

But resident and gallery owner Michael Coull, one of about 100 locals in attendance,  cautioned against proceeding with the solar panels just because money is available.

“This is a charming, magical village ... let’s not be railroaded into this,” Coull said.

He is opposed to installing the solar collectors on the ground beside the hall, facing the village’s main street. He offered an alternative: securing the panels to the building.

Architect Charles Simon said officials looked at all possible locations, including the roof of the hall, but that would negate the warranty on the recently-replaced roof.

“It’s the absolute optimum position,” Simon said of placing the two panels (measuring about 10 feet by 20 feet each) about eight feet off the ground on either side of the parking lot entrance.

Simon and Laing explained the other upgrades for the hall include ceiling and wall insulation, new siding and windows, a “parkette” beside the hall, a bridge to the millpond and various upgrades to the parking lot and entrance.

“This is a must-do project,” Laing said, reiterating comments from a previous presentation to Guelph-Eramosa council, which recently offered its support of a $153,000 Trillium grant application.

Laing explained if the energy upgrades do not proceed, the community won’t be able to afford the hall in 20 years.

Simon told the crowd annual energy costs at the hall include over $3,100 for propane and $2,100 for hydro. When all the upgrades are completed, Simon estimated the hall could cut its greenhouse gases by 90%.

When one resident at the meeting expressed concern about the solar panels being too low to the ground. Simon said they “certainly can be raised.”

Several speakers said the height is immaterial; they don’t want the solar panels placed on the main street of Eden Mills and said doing so would detract from  the heritage qualities of the village.

Resident Al McBride said the township and the community club, which share ownership of the hall, should not rush into a plan that “isn’t complete.” He said from Simon’s presentation, it appears residents who walk in front of the solar panels will be “wearing them on the forehead.”

Community club  president Chris Wilson said delaying the project now would force officials to start all over.

“If we lose our place in line we don’t get our promised payment,” he said, referring to the province’s MicroFIT renewable energy guidelines.

Several youths from the village spoke in favour of the hall upgrades, including the solar panels, but those comments were met with accusations from one woman that the children were planted in the audience by project supporters.

Coull’s plan, he explained, would still facilitate the installation of solar panels and while it would eliminate the storage room at the front of the building, he also proposed a balcony above the parkette be included in the community club plans.

“We’re being asked to do this to save a storage room,” Coull said of the club’s plan.

But another resident  called Coull’s proposal “fantasy” and “an insatiable money gobbler.”

Laing said the community club’s 5 kilowatt solar panel project should be very affordable. He said there will be 4% interest charged on the loan, with no cost or revenue to the club over 11 years.

In the 12th year, the panels should generate an income of $2,273, Laing said. That figure will peak in the 13th year ($3,676) before declining until the 20th year, though some projects do last longer than that, he added.

Several residents questioned the community club’s plan, complaining about the aesthetics of the solar panels and a possible decrease in property values that could result from their placement on the village’s main street.

Yet it seemed most people who spoke at the meeting were in favour of the plan, and the overwhelming majority agreed incorporating renewable energy into the hall upgrades is a good idea.

Councillor Doug Breen noted “everyone is in the same boat” and continuing with that analogy, he urged both sides to come together.

“Don’t get into a fight over the colour of the boat,” he said. “Just paint it, and eventually everyone will forget what colour it was before.”

Breen also quipped the township really doesn’t want to  run the building.

Simon said in an interview after the meeting preliminary work on landscaping at the hall has already begun. Installing new windows and insulating the ceiling and walls would take place over the next 12 months. As for the solar panels, Simon would like to see work start before the ground freezes, or in the spring .

“You’ll never satisfy everybody,” he said.

But the community club  has already voted in favour of the plan and now it is up to council to provide its approval, Simon said.

Guelph-Eramosa council is expected to discuss the plans at its next meeting on Dec. 5.


December 2, 2011


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