February 28th, 2024

Hillcrest Church goes solar in big way

By COLLIN GALLANT on April 7, 2022.

Hillcrest Church on 13th Avenue SE is now the site of the largest solar panel array in the City of Medicine Hat.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

The church which found itself at the centre of the carbon tax debate in 2018 has installed one of the largest solar power arrays in Medicine Hat.

Hillcrest Church is featured in new marketing material for local firm Terralta, which this winter installed the panels on the roof of the large facility near 13th Avenue SE.

That system is large enough to produce as much power as the building uses throughout the year, bringing it to “net zero” as far as power is concerned.

Church officials told the News it also came in at a cost where expected financing payments will be more than made up through savings on bills going forward.

“We had been looking at a solar project for a few years, and there was an agreement that it was a good idea but the financials weren’t there yet,” said Glen Runnalls, the church’s executive pastor.

He said the project, which cost “less than a half-million dollars” was approved by the church board in light of new lower costs for the equipment and better interest rates, coupled with the current higher cost of electricity.

“There’s the calculation,” he said. “We’re doing our small part to lower our carbon footprint, and at the same time save money in our larger facility.”

A blog post and article on the Terralta website describes sizing the system, how the production is calculated and how the system relates to roofing.

“Projects like these hit close to home because they are projects that are for a local organization, developed by a local company that employs local people,” said Marcus Campbell, co-owner of Terralta, which provides energy and ventilation system services. “We’re proud to make solar energy projects available for city residents and beyond.”

In 2018 the church became well known after MLA Michaela Frey, then a candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat for the United Conservative Party, stated the NDP government’s carbon levy had added $50,000 to the church’s utility bill.

It sparked a social media sensation, with UCP party leader Jason Kenney backing the claim, while many questioned the math.

Further investigation found that a pastor had mentioned the figure during services, but later discovered it was the entire increase in the operational budget.

The portion related to the carbon levy was $5,400 for 2017, the first year it was charged, the News reported at the time.

Runnalls said the carbon tax controversy is a closed issue and wasn’t the impetus for the renewable energy project.

While the new solar system may reduce the church’s utility bill, it won’t affect the amount paid in carbon levy.

In Alberta, the federally applied carbon levy is applied on natural gas but not consumer’s electricity bills. The UCP ended the provincial carbon levy when it formed government in 2019, but the federal system is applied in essentially the same format.

Power companies are charged under the province’s regulatory process on their carbon emissions but not on the gas they may use as feedstock. As such any compliance cost is recovered in the energy price, and doesn’t appear on bills.

The Hillcrest system is designed to create as much electricity as is used over the course of a year at the facility, which includes a number of meeting rooms and worship spaces, along with a large gym in the expansive building.

In Alberta, small solar system owners are limited to produce only enough electricity to meet their own needs. Excess production at any given time is credited on bills to be used up when demand outsizes internal supply.

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