By Vanessa Broadbent
Rather than donating consumables to the Oliver Food Bank, Argon Solar decided to give a gift that keeps on giving.
In January of 2016 the local solar energy company donated two solar panels to the food bank, and set up the infrastructure for 18 more – just enough for the building to become self sustainable.
It took about two years – and a lot of support and donations from the community – for the 20-panel goal to be reached.
“It was always our intent that other groups would then come along and throw up a panel here, and a panel there, and eventually get to 20 which is about very close to taking all of their electrical needs,” Argon Solar manager Dave Malmberg said.
The 18 panels were donated by the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen’s area C director Terry Schafer, the Oliver Kiwanis Club, the Town of Oliver, and local residents Dot Cranston, Celia Newman, Joan Heatherington, Jordan Noftle and Ian Gibson.
Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger explained that the Town donated $3,000 from its grant and aid budget to purchase the last four panels needed.
“We just thought it was a great project,” he said.
“The food bank is all run by volunteers. All the money they get in from various grants and donations all goes to feeding the needy in town, so if we can help them to lower their energy costs and the amount they have to spend on heat and light, then that just gives them more money to help more needy people.”
The food bank sees about 180 people come through each week and treasurer Jim Ouellette noted that the funds saved will help the bank adapt with the growing numbers.
“Because our client base is growing all the time we need to keep up to that, and this is one way of doing that,” he said.
With the majority of the panels having been installed in the last six months, exactly how much money they will save is not yet sure, but Argon has set up a page online which shows how many kilowatt-hours of energy the panels have produced.
The solar panels conserve energy mainly during spring and summer, when the daylight hours are long and there’s plenty of Okanagan sunshine beating down. FortisBC then stores the excess power in the form of dollars, which are used towards electric bills in the winter.
“It’s like a squirrel,” Malmberg explained. “You pack it away in the summer and then hopefully you have enough storage in the winter.”
Although the panels have a 25-year warranty, it’s common that they last upwards of 40 years —a gift that Ouellette insisted couldn’t have been possible without the community’s support.
“That’s typical Oliver,” he said. “Anytime you work with people around in a volunteering system like this, you find the generosity of the community is tremendous here.”