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Shawnigan Lake School heats up with solar power

Shawnigan Lake School
Shawnigan Lake School's Jerry Kusters with the 12 solar panels on SLS's Duxbury dorm.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Shawnigan Lake School’s first solar-energy installation is slowly paying environmental, educational and monetary dividends, school officials say.

“It’s helping but it’s a long-term thing,” maintenance manager Ray Hollings said of the 12-panel Soltec system installed by Terratek in January on SLS’ Duxbury dorm.

The solar system preheats domestic hot water, for showering and in-floor radiant heat, normally delivered to three 120-gallon tanks by a gas-fired high-efficiency condensing boiler.

“We do things because they’re good for the environment, with capital up front, but there’s a payback over time in savings in gas to heat our hot water.”

Jerry Kusters, SLS’ purchasing agent pegged savings this year at about $2,500.

“Savings go up as energy prices go up,” he said. “It’ll take some time,” added Hollings, “maybe three to five years, before you get a clear (savings and efficiency) picture.”

Kusters agreed, curious to see “hard numbers” about solar savings.

Still, SLS’ system on one of the private school’s nine dormitories has basically been successful, despite a reduced number of sunny days this year.

“It was a long, drawn-out spring so it’s not colleting too much,” said Hollings.

“Every little bit helps,” Kusters said.

So do government grants.

A $20,000 grant was gained from Victoria — with Solar B.C.’s help — toward the system’s $50,000 price tag, Kusters explained.

But there are also educational benefits of trying solar. Kusters applauded teacher and environment club leader Scott (Enviroman) Noble for urging the solar installation to show students alternate energy sources are practical and thrifty.

“For the first go-round, I think everyone’s pleased,” Kusters said.

“It’s working as well as can be expected,” added Hollings. “The bugs are the amount of sun we get.”

That level free heat could rise as Cowichan sits in a 40 to 60 per cent solar-collectible region, Hollings noted. Kusters basically saw a bright future for solar at SLS.

“Hopefully we’ll expand to other dorms in the long-run, but we need a good amount of data first.”

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