News Local

Solar panel farm proposed for land east of Cobourg

By Joyce Cassin, Northumberland Today

Solar panels could be growing on land adjacent to Pentecostal Church property on County Road 2 east of Cobourg in Hamilton Township later this year.

Omniwatt, a Germany-based corporation, is looking at creating a solar panel farm on the 86-acre property as early as this fall, and intends to retain ownership and operate it using local resources and labour.

Joe Fontana, former MP for London and managing director for Omniwatt, spoke in Hamilton Township council chambers yesterday, saying Omniwatt intends to spend between $40- million and $45-million on the proposed project during these times of economic downturn.

The lands would be covered with approximately 136,500 solar panels that would create 9.9 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 350 to 400 homes, he said. These one-metre-by-70-centimetre panels would be mounted in rows about five to seven feet above the ground.

John Barros, project development manager for Omniwatt, said the lands are in an ideal location, only metres from the Ontario Power Authority grid, the purchaser of the power produced.

Although a project of this size is new to Canada, Mr. Fontana said snow and ice building up on the solar panels are not likely to be an issue, but it would be a pioneer project, and thus subject to changes.

Northumberland County economic development director Dan Borowec said the county's relationship with University of Ontario Information Technology (UOIT) and Queen's University would go hand-in-hand with the learning process.

"This project reflects where the county is headed," said Mr. Borowec. "This initiative fits in with our strategic plan and where we're going."

He said the opportunities are endless for Northumberland if this project is approved.

"Over the next 10 years the changes in technology will be incredible," Mr. Borowec said. "Someone has to throw their hat in the ring and say 'Let's do it'."

Once one project is underway, it would attract many more, Mr. Barros said.

"Where green energy has gone in, other things have followed," he said.

Mr. Fontana said other projects are in various stages across the province, but larger ones such as this proposal have yet to be constructed.

"Commercialization hasn't been possible before because the cost was too high," he said. "This project will be the first for Omniwatt and one of the first in Ontario of its size."

"It'll be the first in Eastern Ontario," said Mr. Borowec. "Eastern Ontario rules again!"

The project is not expected to make any impact on the topography -- there are no towers to block property owners' views or above-ground wires -- and there are no environmental effects as the panels are recyclable when their 20-year life expectancy is over, said Mr. Barros.

Planning co-ordinator Sandra Stothart said the next step in the process is a zoning bylaw amendment public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p. m. at the Hamilton Township office, 8285 Majestic Hills Dr., Camborne.

The matter would then come before council for approval, and if there aren't any Ontario Municipal Board appeals within the required time limits, she said municipal approval could come by the end of April at the latest.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed that that will happen," Ms. Stothart said.

Then would begin soil tests, site surveys and site preparation for fall construction. Construction is expected to take about three months, Mr. Fontana said.