Stratford solar panel project scrapped due to cost

The Town of Stratford, P.E.I., has scrapped plans to install solar panels on the roof of its town hall.

An engineering report has concluded it would cost more — and take longer to pay off — than the town originally thought.

When the project was announced in 2017, the town planned to install panels that would generate 80 kilowatts of electricity — about 30 per cent of the electricity needed a year for the town hall.

The panels were expected to save the town about $15,000 in electricity costs a year and pay for themselves within six years. The town also hoped to sell surplus power to Maritime Electric.

But an engineering report by Coles Associates Ltd. in October 2017 found the gym roof wouldn’t be able to bear the weight of the panels needed to generate that much electricity, and the cost would be close to twice the $200,00 budgeted.

In the best-case scenario the installation would take more than 17 years to pay for itself in energy savings.

“We decided against proceeding with the solar panels on the Stratford Town Centre because the cost of the structural reinforcement made the project too expensive,” said Coun. Darren MacDougall  in an email to CBC News.

The town hall was designed in 2002 to meet building standards at the time. However the National Building Code was updated in 2015 and the roof would need reinforcement to meet those requirements.

“Basic reinforcement of the existing joists will require welding additional steel members” to the existing roof joists which was described as “tedious and time-consuming work,” the report concluded.

This option also would make it more difficult to maintain the roof, and to access and maintain the panels.

The solar panel project was originally planned for the roof of the town hall gym, right, but it was not able to support the weight of the panels without major reinforcement. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

The engineer looked at four options: two involving installing the panels on the roof over the town’s gym, and two ground-based systems.

Even a scaled-down version to fit within the budget would take an estimated 60 years to pay for itself.

The report also looked at installing the solar panels on the ground near the town hall. It too, was estimated to cost almost twice what had been budgeted.

A scaled-down version of the ground-mounted system that fit the budget wouldn’t produce as much power, and would take 18 years to pay for itself.

Solar Panel Options
  Option 1 Option 2 Option 3 Option 4
kW Solar Roof 70 kW Roof 14.5 kW Ground 100 kW Ground 43 kW
Capital Cost $391,000 $199,525 $391,000 $181,125
Annual Energy Savings $15,931 $3,305 $22,807 $9,783

Payback (years)

24.5 60.4 17.1 18.5

Source: Coles Associates Report, Oct. 2017

Since none of the options met what the town had hoped for, it decided not to proceed with the project. 

The town spent $8,698 on the consultant’s report. 

The Emergency Services Centre in Stratford houses RCMP, EMS, and fire services. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

A spokesperson with the town said Stratford is still exploring other ways to use solar energy at its well fields and other town-owned buildings and has applied for government infrastructure funding to install solar panels there.

“We will instead put solar panels on the roof of the new Stratford Emergency Services Centre, which was designed to accommodate them,” said MacDougall.

The emergency centre had already been constructed to include the wiring for the solar panels, once funding is approved.

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