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Solar Colwood under review

Mar 28 2012

Colwood residents can still use a government subsidy to retrofit their homes with solar technology, but an independent review of the $12-million program is on its way.

Critics of Solar Colwood asked their city council stop the program completely until the review is finished, but the politicians threw their support behind the project that, they say, has helped raise the community's profile around the province.

Solar Colwood aims to retrofit municipal buildings with solar energy, while offering incentives for businesses and homeowners to do the same. The program started in 2011 with a $3.9-million grant from the federal government and it is expected to run until 2014.

The goal is to retrofit up to one-sixth of Colwood's housing stock, about 880 homes, with solar technology. So far, 25 solar panel units have been installed and the work on five other contracts is ongoing.

But opposition to the project was fierce during the election and similar criticisms have emerged again.

Jim Belfry, a member of the city's finance committee, estimates Solar Colwood could cost the taxpayers $300,000 if the program is not monitored properly.

"We better know what we're doing if we're going to take on that type of commitment," Belfry said in an interview.

The $3.9-million grant from the federal government is limited to one-third of the total spending for the entire program. Should Colwood spend more than that, the municipality would have to repay the government, Belfry said.

Solar Colwood's finance co-ordinator, Adia Mavrikos, said she monitors all spending and can ensure the money will all be accounted for.

"I'm a chartered accountant, that's my job," Mavrikos said. "It is absolutely being watched."

Homeowners will pay the largest portion of the other twothirds of the bills, but further assistance is available through grants from the provincial government and B.C. Hydro.

Coun. Teresa Harvey supported the review, following up on her promise made during the November election campaign.

"How can the public give proper input without accurate numbers?" she said.

Harvey was the only one elected from a six-member slate, led by mayoral candidate and former councillor Brian Tucknott, that claimed Colwood council lacked transparency and had let public spending spin out of control.

When the election was over, the members of Tucknott's slate continued to scrutinize the program. Belfry met with the group, but says his analysis of the program in no way relates to a political hangover from the election.

Belfry and other committee members volunteered to do the review of Solar Colwood, but council asked staff to identify the best way to conduct a review that is independent of city hall.

"Yes, we need to do it in an open and transparent way, but we need to keep this program going," Judith Cullington told her counterparts on Monday. "Does this council support this program or not?"

Staff will have options for a review at the next council meeting, scheduled for April 10.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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