By Collin Gallant on March 28, 2018.
A closed energy grid that research companies could plug into to test products, while local college students prepare for careers in renewable energy, has passed a final hurdle, it was announced on Tuesday.
It will be built this year at Medicine Hat College thanks to a $526,000 grant from the federal government that will accompany an already announced $215,000 provincial grant.
Mark Keller, the college’s director of advancement, told an audience of about 50 dignitaries that this spring, companies will begin testing equipment on a one-megawatt microgrid. Students will observe and help monitor the installations, with city utility officials certifying test results of solar panels and wind turbines at a site visible from the Trans-Canada Highway.
College administrators wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a first-of-its-kind arrangement in Canada, but said it’s at the leading edge of a rapidly advancing technological and economic sector.
“Our feeling is that on a couple of different fronts we’re unique,” said Keller. “The city is unique with its own utility, and that Medicine Hat has the best solar (and) wind combination in Canada, that puts us in a unique place for this innovation to take place.”
The federal grant is available from Western Economic Diversification, and Minister Navdeep Bains stated in a letter the grant could help 50 companies gain access to the proving ground, help them attract 150 new investors and help 150 college students train in the field.
“There’s kind of an obvious (opportunity) here — if you’ve spent any time in southern Alberta — for solar and wind to take advantage of it here for this demonstration project,” said assistant deputy minister Jim Saunderson.
“We’re happy to jump in with post-secondary institutions, provincial colleagues and, in this case the private sector, on a project that looks quite promising.”
The first private company to get involved is Bluenergy Solarwind Canada, which in late 2016 signed a memorandum of understanding with the college and city utility to test its combination solar panel-windmill prototypes here.
That could get underway this spring with four of the 25-foot trademark blue corkscrew turbines going up south of the Cultural Centre.
Keller said an agreement with a second company could be announced soon.
Near the site a 315-panel solar canopy will be situated in the parking lot, done by local firm Terralta in conjunction with Enmax. The eventual plan is to install fast-charge stations for electric vehicles — that’s a multi-jurisdictional endeavour that involves cities and towns across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The idea has expanded beyond that deal of city-college-company arrangement, as city business development officer Sandra Blythe put it during her comments.
“It really proves the power of partnerships,” she said, citing economic development and educational groups, as well as private industry and local governments.
Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray also attended, along with Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes. She pointed out $215,000 in CARES community economic development funding provided last fall for the project.
“We’re working to continue to move in support of communities,” she told the audience of 50, which included a large number of officials from stakeholder companies.