Nature Centre’s solar panels are already producing energy that will help them offset the costs of running the facility. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)

Nature Centre’s solar panels are already producing energy that will help them offset the costs of running the facility. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)

Nature centre’s solar panels up and running

The A Rocha Buck Creek/Canfor Salmon hatchery and nature centre’s solar panels are now up and running.

“It’s really exciting to be a producer of energy rather than just a consumer. Even if it doesn’t cover it all at least we don’t have to fund raise as much to keep the doors open,” said A Rocha’s Cindy Verbeek.

The organization received an Agrispirit grant of $25,000 from Farm Credit Canada (FCC) to build the solar panels for the nature centre, last year in September.

The grant covered the majority of costs with landscaping, preparation, installation.

“It is a system that we feel will cover half our running costs,” said Verbeek adding that while they applied for the for the full amount and got half, they still decided to go ahead with hopes of adding on if funding became available later.

The monthly donors to A Rocha’s work in Houston have now absorbed the overage for the project.

“Every penny spent on salaries, program supplies and equipment has to be raised through donations and grant applications. These solar panels will help lighten that load by providing energy for the building and operations. The panels we have now are estimated to cover about 50% of our electricity needs. We have built them so that they can be added onto in the future – something we hope to do if we can find funding,” she said.

Verbeek said that they have been tracking the energy production and on their best day, they produced 28.8 kWh. She also said that the solar panels have been helping produce energy even on cloudy days.

“We were hoping for this right from the beginning but were going to leave it if we were not able to get funding and work on it as we developed. We were so blessed to have Holy, the district grant writer, write a successful grant. With the solar panels to create energy we can use the money saved to put into salaries and supplies. We were also able to put in heat pumps that use a fraction of the normal energy needed for traditional heating — again freeing up funds for programming,” she said.

Right now work is being done to finish off the decks and landscaping and figure out what programming looks like with this new facility. The upcoming event is summer day camp.

“We ran a day camp two years ago with great success but this year the experience will be so much more fun and a richer experience because of the nature centre facility and amazing summer staff that will be helping,” she said.

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