Upper Nicola Band to decide on massive solar farm

By on March 16, 2018
The conceptual designs of the proposed 200 acre solar farm. (Photo courtesy of the Upper Nicola Band).


In an upcoming referendum, members of the Upper Nicola Band will decide on whether or not to move forward with a $30-million solar power project proposed for 200 acres of reserve land.

If the project is completed, the solar power plant would be the largest installation in Western Canada, said Peter Hilton, a senior executive with the Upper Nicola Band.

Before construction can begin, members of the band would have to approve a land designation which would allow the Upper Nicola Development Corporation to enter into a 99-year lease of 400 acres of land on the band’s Quilchena reserve, explained Teri Clayton, the land manager for the Upper Nicola Band.

Half of the land would be used to develop a 56,000 panel solar array in partnership with FortisBC, while the other 200 acres would be reserved for future developments. The referendum is set for April 16 and would need a simple majority of voters to approve the designation.

In 2017, the band made a proposal under BC Hydro’s standing offer program to build and operate a 15-megawatt power plant and sell the electricity back to the utility company, said Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod.

The current view of the land which may eventually house a 56,000-panel solar farm development. (Bill Stowell/Herald).

“We looked at solar, we looked at wind, we looked at geothermal. This one here was the best opportunity for the community,” said McLeod of the decision to move forward with a solar farm.

The band ultimately decided to partner with FortisBC for the project because of the company’s willingness to build on reserve land, said Hilton. Among the economic benefits of building on the reserve land would be the ability to hire locally within the band’s membership for construction and maintenance jobs, he added. The band would also collect taxes and lease payments throughout the life of the solar array.

But the main motivator of building the array on the reserve was pride.

“We’re going to have to the largest solar farm in British Columbia, maybe in Western Canada,” said Hilton. “For us to say that this belongs to us and it’s on our reserve — that to me is probably the biggest reason.”

“We are going to be leading and showing the rest of the province and Canada that we are in harmony with our land and we are demonstrating that. We are all concerned about clean energy, green energy,” said McLeod. “We’re not going to be talking about it, we’re going to be doing it.”

(Upper Nicola Band).

A device called a pyranometer has been installed on the land since last fall. The device collects data on the level of solar irradiance on a given site, which helps inform power generation projections for FortisBC.

“We’re going to collect about a year of data to verify our solar estimates for the site. So far we’ve downloaded the few months that we have, and they have confirmed the data that we predicted for the site at this point in time,” said Grant Bierlmeier, a business development director with FortisBC.

The Upper Nicola Band plans to hold at least two more information sessions for members ahead of the referendum on April 16. On April 4, the band will host a session at the Upper Nicola Community Health Services building from 5 to 8 p.m. Then on April 9, there will be another information meeting at the Merritt Civic Centre from 6 to 8 p.m.


  1. Jim Church

    March 22, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    Like many of these projects in Europe this most likely will not produce the amount of electricity promised on the name plate (Most in
    Europe max out at about 19% efficiency with Denmark topping the list at just over 25% efficiency). Most solar power facilities rely HEAVILY upon subsidies to maintain their function and viability. Indeed many still have gone bankrupt – the Spanish company, Abengoa, being just one example with $16.4 billion when it filed for bankruptcy. Solarcity left Nevada with an over $640 million debt when that state stopped offering subsidies. Solyndra, one of President Obama’s pet projects, in spite of massive subsidies, went belly up owing taxpayers over $535 million! this list just keeps growing.
    Sadly, in this headlong rush to be ‘green’ sound economics has vanished. Solar power, even in the Nicola Valley, is inconsistent and therefore imposes a HUGE burden upon the existing grid and power system – at substantial additional costs. This makes the existing system less efficient and more expensive thus raising the costs substantially for power companies which in turn pass on those costs to their customers. In Australia, which used to have one of the most reliable and cheapest electrical systems in the world built upon coal-fired and natural gas electrical systems they have bought into this ‘green’ electricity mantra and now they have literally the highest electricity rates in the industrialized world! And the state of South Australia now has blackouts on a regular basis because the sun doesn’t always shine nor does the wind always blow.
    I would hope that this venture by the Nicola Band does not end up with the same results. I am sure the local leadership means well but those who advise on these matters are salespeople of an ideology first and foremost, not necessarily out for their victims best interests. I would urge the Nicola Band to contact people in South Australia first to find out what has happened there so as to avoid negative repercussions later.

  2. pat triggs

    March 25, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Insufficient information available on feasability / economics so far.
    No mention of subsidies.
    Need a couple of years of pyrametric data from site for feasability study

    Wonder how the economics are working out for Pennask wind farm

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