False Bay School solar panel project founder Doug Hopwood (right) is one of 25 B.C. residents to win a community achievement award this year through the British Columbia Achievement Foundation. Here, Hopwood shows students the solar panel array at False Bay School on Lasqueti Island after the project’s completion in 2016. — NEWS File photo

Lasqueti school solar panel organizer wins award

Doug Hopwood one of 25 in B.C. to win BC Community Achievement Award

Doug Hopwood was two years into his effort to have solar panels installed at False Bay School on Lasqueti Island when he got a fortune cookie that sent him an important message.

“‘Your persistence will pay off,’” it read, said Hopwood. “I put that on my desk, that little slip of paper… and that kept me going.”

Hopwood didn’t know at the time that the solar panel project he kicked off would take nine years to come to fruition. But now the school, whose generator used to consume more than 90 litres of diesel per day to keep lights on and power running, has reduced its diesel consumption by more than 70 per cent on an annual basis, Hopwood said.

As a result, Hopwood has been singled out for an award for what the British Columbia Achievement Foundation called his “dogged determination and clear vision” in support of the False Bay Energy Project.

Hopwood, now living in Qualicum Beach, is one of 25 B.C. residents being recognized with BC Community Achievement Awards this year, to be given out at a ceremony at Government House in Victoria on April 25.

But Hopwood said he is just one person being singled out for a project that had many people involved who were integral to the project succeeding.

He pointed to False Bay students, teachers and staff, School District 69 (Qualicum) staff, as well as people at the B.C. Ministry of Energy as important contributors to the project, in addition to family and friends.

Hopwood’s daughter was attending the school when he first approached school staff with the idea to look at fundraising for solar panels.

He said his motivations were basically two-fold — solar panels would save the school district (which runs on tax funds) plenty of money in the long run after an initial investment. Hopwood had also taken to looking at climate change as a human rights issue, since the impacts of climate change could cost people around the world their lives, he said.

“We know that hundreds and hundreds of millions of people will die as a result of things like famine, floods, heat waves, sea level rise, crop failures of all kinds,” he said.

One author, Mike Berners-Lee, had even estimated that one climate-related death occurs for every 150 tonnes of CO2 emitted. Based on that estimate, and Hopwood’s own math, False Bay School reached 150 tonnes every five years.

“I thought, ‘OK, that just isn’t right. We shouldn’t have to do that when we know there’s an alternative,’” Hopwood said.

The project took much longer than Hopwood originally thought, but became a reality in the spring of 2016.

“The journey from project conception to completion has been both long and challenging,” SD69 superintendent Rollie Koop said at the time.

“It has only been through the unwavering commitment of the Lasqueti community and renewable energy champions like Doug Hopwood that we find ourselves in a place where we can celebrate completion of this project — which will reduce energy costs, lessen our impact on the environment and provide practical learning opportunities for students at False Bay School and the rest of the district.”

Though the False Bay solar panels are, in the scheme of climate change, a small victory, Hopwood said, it’s a hopeful one.

As for his award, he said, “I feel good, I feel honoured,” but reminded others who are working on their own community projects that it takes many people, and often more time than one might expect, to make a change.

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