Carolyn Grant photo Kimberley’s Mayor Don McCormick turns the switch on the SunMine while Don Lindsay

Carolyn Grant photo Kimberley’s Mayor Don McCormick turns the switch on the SunMine while Don Lindsay

Kimberley is mining the sun

The province's first solar energy project to feed into the power grid is online

The theme from Space Odyssey came through the loud speakers, as — almost soundlessly — the 96 solar trackers that make up Kimberley’s SunMine turned their faces to the sun.

Kimberley’s SunMine is now officially supplying power into the BC Hydro grid. That occasion was celebrated on Monday, July 27 with a brief ceremony at the SunMine, located on the old Sullivan Mine concentrator site.

The fact that the site has transitioned from the concentrator of a massive lead zinc mine into a site producing clean solar power did not go unmentioned by the many dignitaries present.

Aq’Am  First Nation Chief Jim Whitehead welcomed one and all to its traditional territory.

Mayor Don McCormick said that the SunMine is first and foremost a symbol of Kimberley’s resilience after the Sullivan Mine shut down.

“Many people believed Kimberley would die, but people worked hard not just to survive but to thrive. When Eco Smart visited in 2008 looking at partnering on the SunMine, Mayor Jim Ogilvie saw the value in demonstrating that Kimberley continued to be an innovative, relevant community. The 2011 referendum on the SunMine got 76 per cent support. Now it’s time to make hay while the sun shines.”

McCormick said that it was a project that required patience, having had five partners, three mayors and 18 contracts.

“Early returns are already exceeding expectations,” he said. “We are open for business.”

“This is special for the province of British Columbia,” said Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett. “It’s the first solar project feeding into the grid. But it won’t be the last.”

Bennett called the fact that an old mine property was producing clean energy, “a beautiful symmetry”, and said it was emblematic of the province’s ten year effort to grow clean energy.

Teck President and CEO Don Lindsay said that the SunMine marked the next chapter in the 100 plus years since Pat Sullivan staked his claim.

“Teck is thrilled to have the opportunity to support this unique project. It fits with our goals of supporting sustainable communities after the mining ceases and supporting the growth of clean energy.

“Kimberley is at the forefront in solar energy. Kimberley’s greatest resource has always been its people. We are very excited to support a new era of resource development in Kimberley.”

Lindsay said that the late Jim Ogilvie would have been very pleased to see the celebration on this day.

The 1.05 MW (megawatt) solar project is B.C.’s first grid-connected solar facility, as well as being Canada’s largest project to use solar trackers.

SunMine consists of 4,032 solar-cell modules mounted on 96 trackers which follow the suns movement, thereby maximizing solar exposure.  The German-engineered trackers provide as much as 38 per cent more energy than a fixed system.  The trackers capitalize on the electricity generated during the morning and evening, peak demand times when BC Hydro has the greatest need for electricity and pays a premium for it.

Production data since June 22nd confirms that the energy being generated by the SunMine is exceeding the modeled design potential, says a city press release.

“SunMine is a great example of the resiliency of our community,” McCormick said. “We are thriving and pursuing new and innovative directions. Although SunMine is the largest solar facility in BC, it is relatively small.  As the SunMine proves its potential, the City of Kimberley is looking to expand it and have already had several inquiries from prospective partners.”

Teck provided use of the land and site infrastructure as well as a $2 million contribution towards the project.

The City of Kimberley gratefully acknowledges the support of Columbia Basin Trust and the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust and the Province’s $1 million contribution through the Innovative Clean Energy Fund.

The SunMine project was conceived and supported by the Vancouver-based EcoSmart Foundation.

“I’m extremely pleased that SunMine’s initial operation confirms the expected performance benefits of the project’s innovative design,” said EcoSmart CEO Michel de Spot. “Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industries in North America and its potential in BC is exceptional. EcoSmart is proud to have collaborated with Teck and Kimberley on this innovative project.”

SunMine is supplying enough electricity to the BC Hydro grid to power approximately 200 homes.

Free public tours of SunMine are being offered several times per day from July 31st to August 5th. To sign up for tours, visit www.sunmine.ca or call the Kimberley Visitor Centre at 778-481-1891.