Look Up, Look Down

It’s spring and I’ve got sunshine on my mind. Also gaping holes

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Do you smell that in the air? Spring is finally here. It’s that time of year when you can step outside and dream up new projects to tackle while catching a whiff of whatever foul treasures are thawing nearby.

Those are the themes of this city hall update: new projects and thawed turds.

New Project: Energy… From The Sun?!?

Councillor Mike O’Donnell’s solar panel motion is up for discussion at the April 30 council meeting. In short, O’Donnell is asking administration to investigate the feasibility of putting solar panels on city-owned land and atop city-owned buildings. The goal will be to get those buildings off the grid. And if the city can generate an electricity surplus that we can sell to SaskPower, great! That’s a potential new municipal revenue source.

When can we expect a report back from administration on this forward-thinking project? O’Donnell’s motion asks for one no later than Dec. 2019.

December? Of 2019?!?

A year and a half seems like overkill to write a report on such a widely used and well-tested technology. We’re not trying to wrap our heads around Wakandan vibranium tech here. Photovoltaic cells have been in use since 1954.

So I decided to give myself a week to investigate municipal solar power generation and see how far I could get.

Spoilers: It’s totes a good idea.

My first stop was with SaskPower. Would they even consider working with the City of Regina to make our solar dreams a solar reality? The answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

Jonathan Tremblay, a SaskPower spokesperson, not only sounded excited at the prospect of working with the City of Regina on this but he tipped me off that SaskPower has already had preliminary discussions with the City of Regina about how to get this project moving forward.

Next, I checked to see if this is something that other municipalities have tried. Turns out, yes, absolutely they have. Far from being a leader on this idea, Regina is trailing behind some communities. Saskatoon, which has its own power utility in Saskatoon Light And Power, has a solar power demonstration site running at its Landfill Gas Power Generation Facility. It is, as I type, generating 263 Watts of power. That’s enough for 12 me’s to write 12 solar panel articles on 12 laptops. Doesn’t sound like much but this is only a small trial project. Saskatoon Light And Power is currently pitching a much more ambitious $3.5 million solar power plant for the city’s west side. If completed as hoped in 2020 it will provide one megawatt of clean energy. And as the City of Saskatoon will own this project, revenue generated over the lifetime of the solar plant would go into city coffers.

Further afield, Calgary has already achieved its goal of powering all its city operations with renewable energy. A component of that has been to install photovoltaic arrays on city buildings, starting with the roof of their Southland Leisure Centre and expanding to 16 other sites around Calgary with five more under construction.

And those are just two examples in our backyard. Globally, community solar uptake is expanding like pine beetle populations in forests warmed by climate change.

From there, I decided to get an idea of how much untapped solar potential the City of Regina is sitting on. To do that, I sat down with Google Maps and measured the flat roof space available at a sampling of city-owned properties.

At the city’s Public Works site, there are eight buildings with a rough total of 15,000 square metres of flat roof space; at the city’s transit facility there are two buildings with 6,500 sq. metres of flat roof; the Parks & Open Spaces facility has three buildings with 6,800 sq. metres; Evraz Place has seven buildings totalling 39,000 sq. metres; and, atop City Hall there’s an additional 1,344 sq. metres. Grand total, that’s 68,644 sq. metres of flat roofs at five city-owned sites. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg because, lazy me, I left off the soon-to-expand Regina Police Services headquarters, all the city’s fire stations and all of Regina’s various community and recreation centres.

Still, I took the numbers I had to Miguel Catellier and Khurram Iftikhar of Sunroof Solar, a local solar panel installer, to see if they thought 6.8 hectares of unused flat roof space would be worth putting photovoltaics on.

“It’s a massive amount of space. If you put all that together, it’s the size of a solar farm,” says Catellier. “I think there’s a lot of potential to produce power there.”

And, Catellier notes, his company even has a municipal green energy program where they put systems up on buildings and lease them back to cities and towns so that those municipalities get renewable power without having to lay out the cash to build the infrastructure.

And what’s more, he says, now is a really good time to get into solar power generation.

“Saskatchewan is the second highest place in Canada in terms of the price of electricity,” says Catellier. “And Regina is the best city in Canada to have solar panels in terms of solar potential. So, if [solar] makes sense anywhere in Canada, it makes sense in Regina.”

Okay, so we have plenty of space and there are firms in the area chomping at the bit to take on a project of this scale.

But, seeing as there’s never been a municipal executive who could make a cup of coffee without first conducting a Caffeinated Beverage Production Pilot Project, I needed to come up with a site for a solar-panel trial run.

And I found the perfect one: the Sandra Schmirler Leisure Centre roof is slated to be replaced in 2019.

According to the guys at Sunroof Solar, it’s always better to incorporate a photovoltaic project into a roof replacement instead of trying to retrofit one onto an old roof. Seeing as the Schmirler Centre sports a 2,700-square-metre flat roof, this would be the perfect place to kick-start Regina’s solar ambitions.

In summary, my report to city council looks something like this:

Recommendation: rooftop solar panels? Do it.

Financial Implications: Like, don’t even worry about it. Long term, these things pay for themselves.

My invoice for consultancy services is in the mail.

Thawed Turd: Capital Pointe

“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” —Friedrich Neitzche

Phew. When the City of Regina issued an order demanding that Fortress Real Development and Westgate Properties backfill the hole they dug for Capital Pointe, I was a little worried that would render irrelevant the “We All Stare At The Capital Pointe Hole And Say ‘Wow’ Like Owen Wilson” event planned by Paula Krasiun-Winsel.

Dang, I thought, the saga is coming to an end. Instead of “Wow” we should be saying, “Farewell.”

Boy howdy, was that ever premature.

Capital Pit was thrown a lifeline on April 17 when Westgate Properties filed an appeal with the Saskatchewan Building and Accessibility Standards Appeal Board to reverse the City’s backfill order. The board will set a date for a public hearing based on the availability of the involved parties and then render a written decision within 30 days.

Why is Fortress/Westgate fighting so hard to prove the project is still viable by filing an appeal? A clue might be found in events taking place in Toronto.

On April 13, the RCMP’s Integrated Market Enforcement Team carried out six search warrants for an investigation into potential syndicated mortgage fraud. The RCMP won’t confirm which company or companies are the target of the investigation but local news reported the buildings searched included the offices of Fortress Real Development.

And Fortress Real Development has allegedly been funding at least some of their involvement in the Capital Pointe project by selling syndicated mortgages.

Stands to reason that if Fortress is facing inconvenient questions about the validity of their syndicated mortgages in Ontario, it won’t help their case if they have a vaporware condo project being erased from downtown Regina.

Or maybe it’s all a coincidence.

Either way, instead of coming to an end the Capital Pointe saga only grows more convoluted. And as a result, a crowd of 200 gathered on April 21 behind the pit at Victoria and Albert and uttered a well-deserved and very Owen-Wilsonesque, “Wow.”

It was everything you’d imagine.