Sun Rises on New Era for Local Bus Shelters

July 13, 2005
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By September, 300 of the city’s modern silver-coloured bus shelters will be powered by solar energy.

Last week, city staff and Viacom, the company that outfits and maintains the GTA’s 4,100 bus shelters, unveiled the first solar-panel retrofitted unit at the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

“I think it’s excellent,” said Ward 3 Councillor Doug Holyday (Etobicoke Centre). “It’s saving on electricity and certainly supporting greening.”

Last fall, representatives from Viacom met with Andy Koropeski, Toronto and East York director of transportation services, to discuss installing solar `lighting kits` purchased from Carmanah Technologies Inc. on 300 of the city’s bus shelters.

It’s an energy-saving idea that came about following the turmoil of the 2003 blackout.

“We wanted to look at what we can do as a corporation to help reduce the dependency on the electrical power grid,” said Darcy Clark, Viacom’s national director of transit and community development.

And to date, 100 shelters have been retrofitted with solar panels. The other 200 units should be completed by September. Testing of the concept began in the new year.

“The solar panels have performed beyond our expectations,” said Clark.

Jack Gibbons, executive director of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance also supports the initiative.

“They’re a one-hundred per cent smog-free clean source of energy,” said Gibbons, a strong advocate for reducing and eliminating the province’s coal-fired electricity-generating plants.

“Solar energy is one of the leanest options to produce electricity and it should be encouraged…This is a step in the right direction.”

Gibbons also said that with the closure of Ontario’s coal-fired plants, thousands of new clean sources of energy are needed to meet increasing electrical demand.

Aside from being energy-efficient, Clark said the shelters, which typically run on the city’s street light system, are also cost-effective.

“There’s no cost to the taxpayers or the city. It’s a win-win story for the community,” said Clark, noting the significant cost of retrofitting bus shelters with solar panels is almost equivalent to hooking up the units to the city’s power grid.

At this time, the new solar-powered shelters are all non-advertising units and Keith Stewart, smog and climate change campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said he hopes they stay that way.

“We love solar panels but to light up advertisements defeats the purpose,” said Stewart, citing his group’s be lean, be green and be clean policy.

“The transit system shouldn’t have to rely on advertisers.”

Some of the GTA’s other important solar-powered projects as of late include the installation of solar panels at Toronto Hydro’s Commissioner Street office building and a new proposed two megawatt solar-energy power array at Exhibition Place.

Once completed in a few years, the project will be the largest solar powered system in the country.