November 27th, 2020

Utility regulators approve plans for major solar play inside Cypress County

By COLLIN GALLANT on October 9, 2019.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Another plan to build a substantial solar power generating field in southeast Alberta has been approved by Alberta utility regulators.

Aura Power received the final go-ahead to build its 39-megawatt Empress Solar Park in northeast Cypress County.

The 250-acre site would feature 147,000 solar panels and be located near the Empress gas plant complex near Highway 41 and would supply power directly to the Alberta grid via Fortis transmission lines.

The facility would also include some storage capacity, according to an approval by the Alberta Utility Commission decision dated Oct. 3.

Projects can spend substantial amount of time between regulatory approval and final approval and construction, but the Aura project is the latest in a flurry of fast-moving proposals that observers say are sparked by the decreasing cost of solar panels and the improved economic cases that no longer require subsidies.

In fact, work on six facilities in the region with a total of 140 megawatts of production has already been green-lighted.

The Empress project and a planned expansion of the Brooks Solar facility by owner Elemental energy, currently before regulators, would bring the total amount of new capacity to about 200 megawatts at peak production – equal to roughly the average output of the City of Medicine Hat’s power plant.

Industry sources say each megawatt of solar energy capacity involves a capital construction cost of about $1.5 million.

Among other projects in the area announced this year are two from Calgary-based SolarKrafte. It sold two projects to German utility giant Innogy and will manage the construction of fields near Vauxhall and Taber.

Ontario-based Canada Solar received $14 million in federal innovation grants to build its proposed $45-million Suffield Solar field, located about 10 kilometres west of the hamlet in Cypress County.

Construction will begin this fall, according to the company, while three others should be underway next summer.

The company won a provincial government supply contract in the spring and will build major arrays in Tilley, Hays and Jenner to meet the requirements.

The Suffield field has a contract to supply power to energy retailer Direct Energy.

As well, Elemental Energy is applying to triple the size of the Brooks Solar facility, located on the east side of that city, by adding panels with capacity of about 25 megawatts on to two adjoining quarter sections.

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