By Cole Parkinson
After plenty of discussions around solar energy in the Municipal District of Taber, two utility-scale solar farms are heading towards construction this spring.
The Canadian-owned Solar Krafte Utilities, along with partners Belectric and innology SW, are building two facilities, Prairie Sunlight II (30 Mega Watt peak) and Prairie Sunlight III (27 MWp), near Vauxhall.
They estimate the solar units will produce enough green energy and the groups report the two solar farms are the first utility-scale projects to be built in Canada without government power contracts or subsidies.
Being located in the M.D. of Taber will bring big benefits for residents reports administration.
“One of the benefits to solar, or even alternative energies, in the M.D. of Taber is that it diversifies our economic portfolio and it takes away some of the pressure we have been facing with the oil and gas industry. The loss of some of that revenue has been made up by some of these alternative energy programs, sponsored by the Alberta and federal government. Our goal, of course, is to bring in that green energy and supplement the tax base for the M.D. of Taber as well. From there, these solar (projects), even the smaller solar operations for individual pivots and some farmhouses, should take some pressure off the overall grid requirements for energy,” explained Kirk Hughes, director of planning and economic development.
A Solar Krafte delegation was last in front of council in September 2017 and they had stated their goal was to bring the region better and cheaper sources of power.
Solar Krafte sees the addition of the solar farms as a huge benefit as not only will it result in lower power prices but have economic benefits for M.D. as well.
“The jobs, property taxes, and other direct or indirect economic benefits are fairly well understood. The peak matching production profile of our solar generation does a very good job of meeting high power demand periods, especially during the summer irrigation/air-conditioning times, where electricity prices historically spike, sometimes egregiously. Thermal generation under-performs during these times and new single cycle gas generation operating with a low capacity factor produces very expensive electricity. Our solar farms will always generate, and competitively sell their power to the Alberta Power Pool whenever the sun is up, resulting in more supply, ergo lower power prices,” added Mark Burgert, Solar Krafte president.
One of the biggest reasons the door for solar has been kicked open is due to the sizeable downshift in oil and gas the region has faced recently.
With this shortfall, the M.D. of Taber has been exploring all different avenues to try and close the gap they currently face.
“Oil and gas were king in this area, and mixed along with our agricultural production, the loss of that revenue is going to sting for a long time. Will wind and solar make up for that? Not to the same capacity we saw with oil and gas but the potential is there. With the other diversification within the M.D.’s portfolio, the plant proteins and alternative proteins coming online, we are hoping to make that shortfall up in the next few years,” continued Hughes. “Anytime you bring in energy, at any capacity, whether it be wind, solar or alternative sources such as water turbines, you take the pressure off oil and gas. You reduce those carbon emissions that the government is very keen on right now and you diversify your portfolio to the green sector. It shows your community is progressive and also growing. It’s a perception that we are out there and meeting industrial needs of the farming community, which are high and they are energy intensive. Having energy within our community that we can put into the grid, is there a massive benefit to that right off the bat? The answer is probably no, but collectively it takes the strain off the coal and other power.”
Prairie Sunlight II will be located on 160 acres of private land in the M.D., south of Vauxhall with it estimated to offset 29,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.
Prairie Sunlight III will be located on 193 acres of Bow River Irrigation land near the town of Vauxhall and is estimated to offset 5,200 tonnes of greenhouse gases annually.
The total capital cost for both are projected to exceed $40 million and both will be completed in one phase with operations beginning in late 2019.
“It will employ a number of trade workers, which will be beneficial to the immediate area. Long term, the number of people working there will be minimal. Solar plants and farms require less labour than say the oil and gas industry does. However, good paying jobs, even a small number of good-paying small jobs are always a benefit to the region,” added Hughes.
While a contractor has not been publicly announced as of yet, Solar Krafte say they will end up handling a large portion of staffing for the projects.
“Our prime construction contractor controls much of the staffing. They are a local, southern Alberta contractor with a 30 plus year history, hiring locally. I know that they are seeing some labour availability constraints, specifically on the electrical/module assembly side. We anticipated this, and over the last year and a half, Solar Krafte has been collaborating with Lethbridge College to develop a Solar Installer course, intended to ramp up local technical capacity,” said Burgert. “Construction is slated to commence immediately upon weather and ground suitability.”
Another attractive portion for bringing solar to the M.D. was having the ability to add to the grid and not just take from it.
“If you can offset some of that per production by putting into the grid with the climate we have with wind and the sun, in the bigger picture it shows we are not just taking from the grid. We are putting as much as we can into the grid to make it as balanced as possible move forward,” stated Hughes.
While the Solar Krafte projects are heading towards construction, the M.D. has a handful of other solar projects in the queue as well.
“We have some solar projects ongoing in the M.D. that are currently in the development permit stage or are going through AUC approvals,” said Hughes.