Residents of the Town of Antigonish received information from members of Alternative Resource Energy Authority (AREA) on the solar garden project that’s being developed for Antigonish during an information session on Sept. 29.

ANTIGONISH: A community information session was held last week at the People’s Place Library to bring the Antigonish community up to speed on the status of the community solar garden project.

Staff of the municipally-owned company Alternative Resource Energy Authority (AREA), along with representatives with the Town of Antigonish, were on hand to relay the available information and answer any potential questions from the community.

Residents were able to learn who is able to participate in the project, what participation looks like, where the project is going to be located; the Brierly Brook landfill site, and were able to sign up for more information.

“Anyone who is on town power is able to participate,” AREA member Sean Flemming told The Reporter. “Instead of putting 10 panels on your roof, you could have 10 of the approximate 4,000 panels on the solar system and you’d receive a credit based on the production of those panels.”

The one thing that wasn’t available during the information session was the price of participation, as it currently hasn’t been made available yet, but they hope to have the figure out to the public by spring.

“It’s a great project and it’s great to see the communities working together in Antigonish, Berwick and Mahone Bay,” Flemming said. “So collectively, this is going to be the biggest community solar initiative in the country; by quite a long shot.”

AREA is hoping people will want to participate in this solar project and become enthusiastic about it he said, noting the turnout was awesome and with a lot of people through the doors, the message had been positive.

“This has been my first engagement with the public since COVID had started,” Flemming said. “And it’s just wonderful to actually see and talk to someone face-to-face.”

As for how it works, the Town of Antigonish will construct, own and operate the solar garden, but town residents are able to subscribe to the project.

“Instead of putting panels on your roof, you basically subscribe to those panels on the solar field, and you’ll receive a credit back on your bill,” Flemming said. “Basically, it gives folks the alternative to putting solar on your roof. If you’re a home owner, maybe you don’t like the look of solar panels, maybe there’s some shade on the south side of your roof, or maybe you’re a renter and not able to participate in solar at all.”

To bridge this gap, which has been a big focus of town council, Antigonish is giving everyone who’s on town power an opportunity to participate, not just those who can afford to.

“If you think about it, only the people who could afford to invest $25,000 into their roof, could even think about looking into solar,” Mayor Laurie Boucher said. “People that may not have the financial ability, that may not have the right orientation, or someone up at Mount Cameron who’s renting and doesn’t own and can’t put up the infrastructure on their roof, can now take advantage.”

Boucher indicated in order to make it available to everybody, the staff at AREA came up with this idea of inclusivity.

“We’re very proud of it,” she said. “The fact the three municipalities together, it’s the biggest community solar garden in the county and part of it being right here in Antigonish, is amazing.”

Boucher explained they want to start breaking ground in the fall to be ready for construction in the spring, and that by this time next year, they’d be fully up and running.

The mayor similarly highlighted that Antigonish Affordable Housing Authority will also have their own portion of panels in the solar garden.

“That’s probably the biggest piece of it, that the challenge council had to make the decision to look at a different way of doing it than just putting solar panels on people’s houses,” Boucher said. “People are excited, tonight’s more about how it works, how it evolved and where it’s going to be, but people are really excited to find out more detail, and that’s when you know they’re interested when they want even more detail than you can give them.”