Electrify Your Garden

Peter Nix

In my solar garden, I grow food energy in the form of strawberries, but I also grow raw energy in the form of electricity. And then I sell that electrical energy, just like strawberries – well, maybe if I had time to attend farmer’s markets.

One solution to minimize damage from climate change is to use the sun’s energy for more than just growing food. More solar energy falls on earth in a single hour than all the fossil fuel energy used globally in a year. On June 9, 2014, Germany produced a record 50% of its electricity from solar, yet it gets less sunshine than my home region of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, BC.

In the Cowichan Valley, citizens will spend over one billion dollars on energy over the next decade – that means exporting a lot of jobs. If we go solar, we will create more local jobs than any other energy source.

BC will need lots more renewable power to transform into a non-carbon economy; preferably using citizen-owned, cheap, and local energy. Right now, you and I can make solar energy cheaper than the Site C dam project can, when, and/or if, it comes on stream. However, many people cannot make solar electricity on their own – perhaps they have no suitable rooftop or backyard, or lack money to make that initial investment. So what to do?

We are forming a group called Solar Cowichan to help people invest in solar energy. The concept is simple: form a social enterprise group that allows members to invest what they can afford in solar panels on residential or commercial sites. This group would install solar panels on suitable property, collect money earned from the sale of electricity, and redistribute it to shareholders.

To test the economics of this concept, and frankly to put my money where my mouth is, I installed 192 solar panels in my garden. It took about 1/10 of a hectare, but will

produce about 50,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year which is three to five times the amount most homes consume.

I contracted this project to a local company as a personal investment, transferring about $145,000 from my pension fund. The energy produced will save me about $2,000/year as I will no longer pay BC Hydro’s Tier 2 rate of about 12.4 cents per kWh. Hydro will also pay about $3,500/year for my excess electricity at 9.9 cents perkWh.

Combining savings and revenue gets me to $5,500, and because I save dollars already taxed, I project about a 4% return in the first year, increasing over time as BC Hydro rates increase.

It’s a good deal considering the increasingly poor and volatile returns my pension fund earned in the stock market this year. And it may get even better – a similar project on Salt Spring Island produced 10% more energy than anticipated. As well, I have a 25 year warranty – nobody gets that growing strawberries.

Want to step up and invest in solar energy but haven’t got enough money? Live in a small house, apartment or condo? Then use someone else’s garden or roof by investing in a citizen-owned Solar Co-op and get dividends, and a thanks from future generations. Email cowichancarbonbusters@shaw.ca.


Peter Nix lives in Maple Bay BC and is a Cowichan Carbon Buster.

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