By COLLIN GALLANT on May 14, 2019.
A city-led foray into solar-thermal power production will be wound down, utility officials said Monday of the project that ran over budget and was widely criticized in the public for not paying off.
The arrays, which overlook the city’s main power plant, won’t be activated this summer, and the city will begin planning for an alternate use for the site, potentially a renewable energy park.
Citing the continued cost of operations and the now-fulfilled requirement to provide operational data on the project – a first at such a high latitude – officials state “it was deemed best to lay it up at this time.”
“Medicine Hat took a bold step with the project, coming up with the idea at a time when gas prices were extremely high,” said utility commissioner Cal Lenz. “Innovation takes valiant moves, and this project is certainly an example of the city’s leadership as we continually explore energy solutions.”
The project’s original budget of $9 million was split evenly between three levels of government, though the city was eventually responsible for about $3 million in unexpected costs and regulatory delays as the technology was being used for the first time in Canada.
The operating data now resides with Alberta Innovates, a provincial agency, as a condition of the grant funding.
“Innovation may not always lead to commercialization,” said Lenz. “The provincial and federal governments chose our city to lead the project and foster learning about this technology, and this objective has been successfully achieved.”
Elected officials were not available for comment on Monday.
Utility administrators are expected to bring forward options for the future of the site this fall, a release states.
The project itself creates heat, not electricity like a photo-voltaic solar panel system would, by focusing the sun’s rays on piping via an array of parabolic mirrors. It then uses piped brine to heat water in the city’s main steam generator in the facility below the hill near the Gas City Campground.
Despite the widely held belief in the public that the facility did not work, administrators reported in 2014 that brine was heated to several hundred degrees Celsius even on winter days. That’s hot enough to boil water, but not at an economic rate compared to the plunging price of natural gas.
At the same time it went on line, the city reported that commissioning the plant cost about $3 million more than expected, which was paid for when other projects in the division came in under budget. The total capital cost to the city was about $6 million.
When it was proposed in the late 2000s as a way cut down on natural gas use in pre-heating, gas was near record high prices. It has been in a 10-year slump since the advent of new liquid natural gas drilling techniques.
Essentially, that drop in price undermined the economic case for the project, which also received $6 million in grant funding from other levels of government.
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