May 19th, 2019

City decides to wind down solar-thermal site

By COLLIN GALLANT on May 14, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT
Reflective panels at the city's solar-thermal facility are pointed down on Monday, May 13, 2019 after five-years of operation of the renewable energy collector system. The city announced on Monday they are examining new options for the site that was previously described as uneconomical in an era of low-priced natural gas.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

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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5 Responses to “City decides to wind down solar-thermal site”

  1. banjokaz says:

    It was a ridiculous project to begin with, as it was built around the same time photo-voltaic solar panels surpassed thermal solar in their energy production capacity. PV panels are now FAR more efficient, and would’ve been a FAR better investment.

  2. Les Landry says:

    And during the 2013 municipal election, Ted Clugston touted this as the leading edge of future energy.
    He was called on it during the election and Ted said he’s done all the research and he is very well informed on the viability of the project.
    Maybe Teddy should have done more research…

  3. zajobi says:

    Hmmm … Pointed down … From April 1st to mid October, for last 5 years have walked by the field every day, can count the number of times panels were following sun – oh, using fingers on both hands …
    A real waste of tax payers money …

  4. tonio5 says:

    I believe Clugston said this would be a tourist attraction. Still remember him gloating on how MH was taking the lead. What a fool. Then the parking lot was built for all the tours ($300,000??). Any person with a slight bit of technical intelligence knew from the start this whole project was going to be a lemon. The article states the water was heated to several hundred degrees, even on winter days. It never operated in the winter. Where was this measured? The power plant had to heat the water further with natural gas to create the steam needed. When we have our own natural gas, what did prices of that commodity matter as an excuse to build this white elephant? The gall of the city to say the project cost was offset by other projects under budget. Bunch of bureaucrats wasting our money.


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