News / Winnipeg

Bright idea: New solar power corporation headed to Winnipeg city council

Coun. Russ Wyatt said an arm's length corporation producing and promoting solar would offset the city's carbon output and diversify its revenue stream.

Solar panels are seen here in Spain. Coun. Russ Wyatt wants the City of Winnipeg to set up a new arm's length corporation that would produce solar power through solar farms and arrays on city lands and facilities.

Getty Images / Metro File

Solar panels are seen here in Spain. Coun. Russ Wyatt wants the City of Winnipeg to set up a new arm's length corporation that would produce solar power through solar farms and arrays on city lands and facilities.

Winnipeg city councillor Russ Wyatt wants more power—solar power, specifically.
 
“I don’t think we as a city can wait, we have to act now,” Wyatt said in an interview Tuesday. “Climate change is not going away, it’s coming at us like a freight train, so we have to be leaders; [solar power] is an example of where we can lead.”
 
On Wednesday, he’s introducing a motion to city council that proposes the city create a new arm’s length not-for-profit corporation, called the Winnipeg Green Energy Organization (WPG-GEO), which would be tasked with the production of solar powered electricity.
 
Wyatt’s vision is for WPG-GEO to build and operate solar farms and arrays on city facilities and lands to not only offset the city’s environmental impact, but also produce so much power that the city could “sell back into the Hydro grid.”
 
“We contribute to the carbon problem in the environment, and I think we can, through something like this, start to offset that, and maybe even assist the city in diversifying its revenues,” Wyatt said.
 
The new corporation’s mandate would also include promoting the benefits of solar power, and offering incentives to public and private customers.
 
Wyatt wants to provide WPG-GEO a $200,000 operating budget in 2018, which would be sourced and sustained from projected savings associated with a switch to LED street lighting—it would compound annually to provide a minimum of $1 million within five years.
 
“We’ve been putting that into general revenue… but we haven’t approved the 2018 budget,” Wyatt said. “I’m suggesting it go into this not-for-profit corporation to allow it to get up and operating.”
 
Coun. Ross Eadie said he supports Wyatt’s motion because he wants Winnipeg “to stay on top and be at the forefront of green technology.”
 
“Solar energy doesn’t produce greenhouse gas, so the ultimate benefit for the city is—in a system with carbon taxes—you get value for that,” Eadie said. “That value can be channelled back into the city so we can do things over a certain term to reduce the costs to the taxpayers with the carbon pricing that’s inevitable.” 
 
Alex Stuart, vice president of Solar Manitoba, said although it’s “technically feasible” to produce grid voltages for distribution purposes, that may be a better goal for the hypothetical WPG-GEO to pursue at a later date. 
 
“I think right off the hop, the city would be best served taking advantage of Canada’s best solar power rebate,” Stuart said, referring to a Manitoba Hydro rebate program that helps cover a third of solar installation costs.  
 
Stuart further explained most power-consumers are “best served when they’re able to use (solar) for their own uses, rather than focussing on being a net exporter.”
 
But whatever happens with Wyatt’s motion, which council could refer to the executive policy committee for further consideration, Stuart thinks the concept has legs and is coming at the right time.
 
“The price of power is going up, the price of solar is going down, that’s just the truth,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, Manitoba Hydro is keen to work with solar, they’re just in a process of working through what that looks like.”

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