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Rooftop solar project at recreation centre remains up in the air

Council opted to delay decision, referred plan to budget deliberations; 'Doing it a year from now will be no less of a statement,' says Emond
rooftop of rec centre
A citizens group, Orillia Community Energy, is seeking city support to create a solar project on the rooftop of the Orillia Recreation Centre under construction on West Street.

The idea of developing a solar panel project atop the new Orillia Recreation Centre is still up in the air.

At Thursday night’s council meeting, city councillors voted to send the idea to the 2020 budget deliberations, which will get underway this fall.

Orillia Community Energy (OCE), a grass-roots citizens group, made a pitch to council in April asking for approval to develop a 150-kilowatt solar installation on the flat roof of the recreation centre.

The cost of the solar panel project is estimated to be $300,000. OCE proposes to raise two-thirds of that cost from the public and private sectors. The city is being asked to ante up the remainder - $30,000 annually for three years.

In July, at a council committee meeting, councillors voted not to proceed with the project.

The primary reasoning behind the decision was that there are no longer rebate programs being offered by the province that would allow the project to be financially viable.

A week later, council chose not to ratify that decision and deferred a decision pending its strategic planning exercise.

While that is now complete, council opted not to make a decision - yet.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said the idea and its request for city funds should be heard during budget meetings when it can be weighed against the many other competing demands for city cash.

“My thought process, after a couple of discussions, is to follow the process … (and) that is to put this into budget process against other issues," said the mayor.

Two councillors thought the city should endorse the plan and move forward.

“I’m still in favour of going ahead with this,” said Coun. Tim Lauer. “I like the idea.”

He said the city would be, essentially, leveraging $90,000 to kick-start a $300,000 project.

“Let’s support it and let them get going on it,” said Lauer, who added he “loves” the educational component of the project that would see a real-time representation of the project and its savings inside the recreation centre.

Coun. Jay Fallis echoed those sentiments.

“I think this is an innovative idea (and) something that should be celebrated,” said Fallis. “It’s something that really allows our city to progress and allows us to develop our infrastructure. For me it’s a no brainer.”

But Coun. Mason Ainsworth said it makes sense to wait until “it’s financially feasible.” He agreed it’s a “great idea” to have solar panels but, “I think this one can wait a little bit.”

Coun. Ted Emond, also in favour, in principle, of the concept, said there is no rush.

“I would prefer to have (ideas from Sustainable Orillia) mature to a degree where we’re looking at a number of these items and potentially making a decision about where our limited dollars may be best spent,” said Emond.

He agreed the project would be “a perfect example” to the community of a sustainable project. “But doing it a year from now will be no less of a statement.”

Staff previously noted that the recreation centre’s roof has been constructed to accommodate solar panels. They could be installed at any time.

In the end, the majority of council agreed to refer the decision to budget deliberations.