It was an appropriately sunny morning on Monday, July 7, as dignitaries and guests gathered at the Kimberley Conference Centre to celebrate the official launch of the Sun Mine project.
It has been almost three years since a majority of Kimberley citizens authorized through referendum the borrowing of $2 million to construct the Sun Mine.
In that time the City and its partners secured funding, negotiated ownership, undertook due diligence and pre-feasibility studies and completed 17 agreements with eight different organizations.
Many of those partners spoke on Monday of their delight that all these partnerships came together so well and their optimism about the solar project, which will be the largest solar facility in western Canada.
First to speak was Coun. Marty Williams of Aq’Am, the St. Mary Band. Williams welcomed all to Ktunaxa territory and said he was pleased to see a project take advantage of solar power after “life support systems have been so abused and mismanaged”. Williams acknowledged the role of the province of British Columbia, represented by Minister of Energy Bill Bennett, and encouraged the province to open the doors for more opportunities in solar energy.
Mayor Ron McRae, sporting a suitably sunny shirt, said it had been a long journey to bring the Sun Mine to reality.
“Each year Kimberley has over 300 days of sunshine, despite Mayor Wayne Stetski reminding me Cranbrook is the sunniest city in B.C. I will remind him of the Sun Mine on a regular basis.”
McRae called the Sun Mine a promising project and a homegrown, common sense solution.
“It speaks to the positive energy of our community,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary project made possible by people who dare to dream differently.”
Minister Bennett said that part of his energy portfolio was clean energy and it has been interesting learning what is possible. He said there were several things important about the project, including City ownership. It was also important because the province hasn’t done much with solar energy yet. The Sun Mine will be the first western Canadian solar project to actually generate electricity. He also said the project was important because of the level of collaboration required between Teck, the province, the people of Kimberley, the Columbia Basin Trust, the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust.
“It has symbolic importance,” Bennett said. “Kimberley gets a little star beside its name as the first place in B.C. involved in solar energy.”
Next to speak was Don Lindsay, President and CEO of Teck, which donated $2 million to the Sun Mine. The Sun Mine will be built on Teck lands, the old concentrator site.
“For Teck, this is the latest step in our longstanding partnership with Kimberley,” Lindsay said.
He said the City was showing its entrepreneurial spirit and that Teck saw the future of solar energy as very bright.
“There is tremendous potential for solar power. Costs will continue to come down.”
Lindsay said the $2 million was a donation and Teck doesn’t expect any return on it, but that the company feels they have to get involved with a project that is critical for everyone’s future. It was also a way for Teck to support creating sustainable communities in the places they have operated.
“We are excited to be involved. It’s a sustainable legacy for years to come.”
Michel de Spot, President of EcoSmart, another partner in the Sun Mine, and a solar expert, demonstrated how much more affordable solar energy is becoming by holding up a small piece of solar panel.
“In the 70s, this square would have cost $200. Now you can get it for $1.”
de Spot said that as costs come down more and more people will start using solar energy. Canada is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of really getting on board with solar, he said, so this project is very timely.
“We did extensive research on where to put this plant,” he said. “Solar is a resource like copper or zinc. You dig for sun like you dig for copper.”
de Spot said that they looked at 35 years worth of solar data.
“We know we’ve got a really, really good spot. It’s all about location, location, location. We have the lands, they are south facing, with a substation and transmission lines, fencing, security, in winter the snow reflects back the sun. We have the people, the Mayor, the support of Teck.
“I think this will be the solar land in Canada with the highest performance. The Sun Mine will be a centre of excellence for solar research.”
The CEO of the Columbia Basin Trust, Neil Muth, said that CBT was happy to step in at the eleventh hour when a little additional funding was needed to make the Sun Mine happen.
“After the initial phone call, it was clear that Kimberley was committed to this project,” Muth said. “We look for collaboration and inter-generational impacts in the project we support.”
The Sun Mine had both, Muth said.
Also speaking were Marilyn Peterson from the College of the Rockies and Sun Mine partner Jared Donald of Conergy Canada.