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Victoria condo powers up with strata-initiated solar project

A new solar panel system is covering the roof of a 64-unit Pembroke Street condominium building to help owners save on energy costs.
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Thursday: Bruce Mackenzie, Central Park strata council president, right, and electrician Michael Geldreich, of Power to the People, with some of the 60 solar electric panels installed on the roof of the Pembroke Street building.

A new solar panel system is covering the roof of a 64-unit Pembroke Street condominium building to help owners save on energy costs.

The installation on the Central Park condo appears to be a ground-breaking move for a Vancouver Island strata council.

In recent years, councils have been asking about the feasibility of installing solar electric panels, said Sandy Wagner, president of the Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association.

“This is the first one that I know of,” Wagner said. “That’s fabulous for them.”

The Central Park roof holds 60 solar panels installed by solar energy contractor Power to the People, using materials from supplier HES-PV, said Bruce Mackenzie, president of the strata council.

The system will generate electricity that will feed into the strata’s electrical panel, thus reducing its electrical bills, he said. The solar panels are expected to generate about 16,000 kilowatt hours a year, he said.

It is estimated this system will save about one-third of the council’s $6,000 annual energy bill for its common areas, Mackenzie said. The common areas include indoor and outdoor lights, the elevator, laundry machines and fans.

B.C. Hydro has made it easy to connect to the grid and does not charge for the link, he said. The City of Victoria’s only charge was for an electrical permit.

The $47,000 cost was paid out of the strata’s contingency services fund, Mackenzie said. It is being paid back in monthly installments from owners over five years.

The four-storey, 38-year-old building is suited to solar power generation because it has a flat roof without anything blocking the sun, he said.

A self-described “energy geek,” Mackenzie spearheaded the project, starting with a show of hands to indicate interest at a strata council annual general meeting in 2011.

“As far as we know, this is the first time on Vancouver Island that condominium owners have voted to spend their own funds to install solar panels,” he said. “It is practical now because the falling price of solar panels is crossing the rising cost of electricity.”

The strata has taken other energy-saving steps, such as lighting upgrades, and participating in B.C. Hydro’s product incentive program in 2009.

Mackenzie is putting together a summary of what such an installation entails, hoping that other condominiums will follow suit.

It will be posted on the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association website, bcsea.org, before the end of the month. Mackenzie will respond to questions.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com