By COLLIN GALLANT on July 11, 2020.
A plan to build one of the Canada’s largest solar energy farms on barren land inside Medicine Hat city limits is not only moving forward, but also expanding, the company behind the proposal has told the News.
In early 2019, the News revealed that Irish renewable energy firm, DP Energy, was planning to build a massive solar panel array on hundreds of acres in the city’s northwest, after the company began seeking municipal approval in Calgary for similar projects on former industrial sites in that city.
Company officials said this week that they are not deterred by what they see as short-term swings in the power market or economic conditions brought on COVID-19.
They submitted the much smaller Calgary plans to provincial utility regulators in late June, and said once those are complete, potentially in 2022, the Saamis Solar field in the Hat, would be built at an estimated cost of $450 million.
Now, designed to produce 300-megawatts of power at capacity for the Alberta power grid, it would be three times bigger than the largest plant in operation today in Canada.
“Obviously we’re watching (power demand and the economy), and there is an impact, but this is a 30-year project once it’s built,” said Damian Bettles, DP Energy’s regional manager for North America.
“While there might be are fluctuations in the short term – particularly with power demand drops, COVID and the like – you have to take a long-term view with the project.”
Green energy developers have cited increasing economic viability of solar energy production thanks to improved technology, lower cost panels and the Alberta government’s decision last maintain a power bid system. It sends prices higher when demand is higher, specifically in the summer when solar performs best, thereby boosting revenue from power sales.
Now before regulators is “Barlow Solar” one of two former fertilizer plant sites in Calgary where panels on hundreds of acres would produce 55 megawatts of power in peak conditions combined with a similar project nearby.
The project in Medicine Hat, originally billed as having a 200-megawatt capacity, was recently expanded to 300 megawatts, on the land formerly used by Westco Fertilizer to hold production waste.
That site was capped in the early 2000s after the plant was shut down, but, like the Calgary sites, is still subject to environmental restrictions that bar permanent development.
Land owner, Viterra, has sought to sell land around the “phosphogypsum stack” for years, but confirmed they are in talks with DP to lease the specific land that has essentially no useful purpose.
DP Energy commercial director, John Kerr, said this week, the expansion to 300 megawatt capacity would require more land in the area, which is zoned for Future Urban growth zone. In practical terms, though, it is earmarked for heavy industry, sitting in a one-mile buffer zone from other plant sites in the northwest.
In Medicine Hat, where renewable energy is a permitted use on such land, a development permit has already been issued, though the project has not been submitted to the Alberta Utilities Commission.
Kerr said the location has “all the right things.”
“In this case we were looking for land others might not think was suitable, that you can correct,” said Kerr. “That”s what we’ve done: it’s a huge tract of land in Medicine Hat, that’s (flat), well positioned to the load (points of demand), the grid and in an areas with generous solar resource.
“All the right things are there. The only issue is the condition of the land, and we have a solution.”
DP Energy’s plan states that panels mounted on concrete pads (not via driven piles) wouldn’t disturb the underlaying ground. The technology is common on smaller scale arrays that sit atop of reclaimed municipal landfills, said Bettles.
“We’ve specifically designed the project around the site,” he said. “It’s non-disruptive installation without ground penetration. It’s tried and tested structure for solar panels.”