Solar panels to generate revenue

Queen’s plans to lease out four campus rooftops to global company

The Goodwin Hall solar panels, installed in 2002, have been a learning tool for applied science students. The new installations will be on the rooftops of four campus buildings and at QUBS.
The Goodwin Hall solar panels, installed in 2002, have been a learning tool for applied science students. The new installations will be on the rooftops of four campus buildings and at QUBS.

Plans are underway to install thousands of solar panels on Queen’s property within the next year.

The entire system is expected to generate 13.5 million kWh per year—enough energy to support 120,450 Ontarians for a full year.

Under an agreement with American company Johnson Controls, Queen’s won’t own the solar panels or directly profit from their energy generation but the University will receive a monthly payment for leasing space. The agreement was signed in December last year and includes the lease of rooftops and land.

Queen’s Sustainability manager Aaron Ball said the agreement will provide the University with a new steady source of revenue.

“The University has no capital cost associated with this project,” Ball said. “The system is owned by Johnson [Controls] and their financial partners … what Queen’s gets is basically a rental payment.”

System plans are currently under review by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to see if the panels are applicable for the Feed-in Tariff program. Through this provincial program, the OPA pays solar panel owners for the energy that the panels generate.

Queen’s applied to the OPA in late May. Ball said a response should come before the end of September. Ball said he’s expecting approval but it’s not guaranteed.

If plans are approved, then Johnson Controls will install solar panel systems on the rooftops of Victoria Hall, the Queen’s Centre, Duncan McArthur Hall and the An Clachan apartment complex on West Campus.

A larger, ground-mount system will be installed on a plot of land measuring 80 to 100 acres at the Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS). This field-like set up of solar panels will generate the most energy of all the systems, counting for 90 per cent of the total generated energy.

The five systems will all vary, in the type and orientation of the panels, Ball said, adding that this will maximize the amount of light the stationary solar panels receive.

Once approved, each system’s contract will last for 20 years.

“Best case scenario would be for some limited installation this December, weather dependent … the bulk of it will take place in the spring,” Ball said.

Due to its large size, the QUBS installation will begin later than the on-campus solar panel systems. Public meetings and environmental assessments will need to be conducted to ensure that the large ground-mounted panels will not affect the local community or wildlife.

Queen’s current solar panel installation on the Goodwin Hall façade was criticized for its design, Ball said, adding that the new rooftop systems will be an upgrade from this.

“[The Goodwin Hall solar panels] were installed fairly early on in the technology of solar panels … the orientation of them may not be as good as it could’ve been,” he said. “In terms of the production though they’ve been working well.” Ball said the new solar panel project began last summer and is something that the sustainability office has been discussing for years. He attributes its creation to the combined effort of many faculty and administration. “There were a couple different student groups on campus that were very supportive of moving this project forward,” Ball said.

Undergraduate Student Trustee Lauren Long, ArtSci ’13, was part of the Solar Coalition last year—a group that advocated for the installation of solar panels on campus.

“Solar panels really demonstrate the commitment that the Queen’s administration has for sustainability,” Long said. “[They] are something so visual and tangible that students can really see and relate to.”

The Solar Coalition dismantled after the University began to put tangible plans for new solar panels together. Long said plans were formed in the summer of 2010.

“One big criticism of the panel was the funding of it … with the current financial instability of Queen’s, leasing was a way to get it done fast,” Long said.

Another criticism Long said she heard from students was that the panels would deface the historic look of the campus.

“That issue has been taken care of because not all of the roofs are getting panels; only the ones that aren’t historic and the panels should be relatively out of sight as well,” she said.

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