By COLLIN GALLANT on February 16, 2019.
Three new solar farms will be built in southeastern Alberta next year to meet a power supply contract for provincial government needs that was awarded Friday to Canadian Solar, Inc.
That firm is already moving ahead with construction of the $49-million Suffield Solar Farm this spring. Officials at an announcement in Calgary said projects in Hays, Jenner and Tilley will be built in 2020 to fulfil the new contract.
The projects, representing more than $100-million in construction, are designed to produce a total of 94 total megawatts in peak conditions. That accounts for half the needs of provincial facilities at a contract price of 4.8-cents per kilowatt hour – less than the average market price on provincial grid in 2018.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the contract represents a new record low for solar pricing, which will save the government $3.9 million a year in operating costs compared to previous contracts. She added that it also creates 270 jobs in the area during construction and supports economic diversification.
“These are areas that have suffered due to the drop in oil prices and also natural gas, which the area around Medicine Hat is very dependent on,” she said. “It’s been a rollercoaster in southeast Alberta. Adding jobs in the renewable sector is very helpful to making the economy more stable.”
The projects will double the amount of solar energy generating capacity in Alberta, and the production represents about 55 per cent of the power the province uses to operate its facilities. It goes onto the general grid to replace power used elsewhere.
The procurement process this fall garnered interest from 19 firms which pitched 31 facilities, said officials.
That process drove down prices, said John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industry Association, lauding the province’s goal and action toward having 30 per cent of the province’s energy production come from renewable sources by 2030.
“Investors all over the globe are watching this announcement,” he said. “You don’t read about it in the media, but sometimes government policy achieves everything it needs to do.”
The winning bid by Canadian Solar was a submitted partnership with the Conklin MÃ©tis Nation, which has a 50 per cent equity stake in exchange for partial financing.
Company official Ryan Tourigny called the price outstanding for “subsidy-free renewable energy,” with municipal taxes and payments to private land owners as major benefits.
Tourigny stated construction workforce could be 80 per cent local, though permanent employment positions would be one or two at each site.
“It’s our hope that the construction group that builds up in the region can help in the deployment of solar to the rest of the province,” he said.
The amount of sunlight, weather conditions and existing power lines make the southeast the region of choice for development, he said.
Canadian Solar has seven proposals before regulators to build solar farms, including yet-to-be approved plants near Vauxhall, Brooks and Taber.
The projects in Friday’s announcement are:
– Tilley Solar, located 9 km north of the hamlet in the County of Newell, involving 189 acres of land to produce 22 megawatts;
– Jenner Solar, located four kms east of the hamlet in Special Areas No. 2, involving 160 acres to produce 12 megawatts;
– Hays Solar, located 3 km east of the hamlet in the M.D. of Taber, involving 174 acres of land to produce 23 megawatts.
All the land is privately owned and will be leased.
The capacity is reported in alternating current, which makes the total different from the 93MW of direct current that was widely reported Friday.
This month Canadian Solar received $14 million in federal innovation grants related to the use of “bifacial” panels at the 23-megawatt Suffield project.
Those two-sided panels, which would also be used in the new projects, can absorb energy on both sides. Developers say that provides operational benefits especially when the ground is snow covered, both to generate additional power and melt any accumulation on the panel’s top surface.
A general contractor for the Suffield project will be hired in the next two months, officials have said.