Construction of Canada’s largest solar farm in Alberta is poised to proceed with the infusion of $500 million from a Denmark-based investment group.
The decision by the world’s large renewable energy fund, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, to bring global investors into the 1,900-hectare project on grazing land near the village of Lomond in Vulcan County is a watershed for the industry, said Dan Balaban of Calgary-based Greengate Power Corp.
“This show of confidence is great news for Albertans . . . It really speaks to the quality of the Alberta renewable energy resource,” said Balaban, CEO of the company that’s spearheading the project.
The Travers Solar Energy Project, to be one of the world’s largest, will feature 1.5 million panels set amid grazing land. It should begin taking shape in the middle of this year and be completed in late 2021, he said.
It’s projected to produce 400 MW (megawatts) of electricity with the potential of powering 100,000 homes and creating 500 full-time jobs during construction. The next-largest solar farm is in Ontario, with a capacity of 100 MW.
Key to this production is the fact southern Alberta enjoys an average of more than 300 days of sunny skies annually.
“Over the last decade, the cost of solar energy went down by 90 per cent, making it competitive with natural gas,” added Balaban.
The project is part of a veritable solar energy rush in Alberta that includes the construction by Ireland-based DP Energy of a 25 MW project on 63 hectares of land in Calgary’s Shepherd Industrial Park.
Meanwhile, Ontario-based Canadian Solar Solutions has acquired a 20-year contract to supply electricity to government facilities with the building of three solar farms located near the communities of Jenner, Hays and Tilley in southeastern Alberta, which will create 100 MW of capacity.
Additionally, a $200-million solar facility which will produce 130 MW is being built by Calgary-based Perimeter Solar about 125 kilometres south of Calgary.
Power produced by the Travers facility is slated to be fed into the province’s wholesale market and electricity grid.
Together, these proposed or soon-to-be-completed solar projects could produce 4,000 MW of energy — though it’s not likely that all of them will be built.
According to the Alberta Electric System Operator, about 10,300 MW was being generated in Alberta on Monday.
“We need to recognize energy production is going through a revolution,” said Balaban.
While the current provincial government doesn’t offer subsidies to the industry, other policies such as a carbon tax on large emitters encourage the production of cleaner renewables, he said.
“It’s allowing them to go forward on a non-subsidy basis,” he noted.
Alberta’s planned phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2030 is also a boon for renewables, which will be needed as a replacement, he added.
In a Monday tweet, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called the funding announcement “good news…This $500 million investment will result in 500 FT jobs for Alberta during construction!”
Skeptics of wind and solar power point to their reliance on weather conditions, but Balaban said a massive increase in investment in the development of batteries — to store renewable energy outside of peak generation hours — will be a game-changer.
The Travers project won’t initially include such batteries, but they’ll likely be installed within this decade, he said.
“Once these projects come online and operate reliably without subsidies,” they’ll be accepted as a supplement to other energy sources, said Balaban.
Solar generation comes into its own on the sunniest and hottest days when the demand for air conditioning power peaks, say proponents.
But for now among renewables, it lags behind power produced by wind turbines due to the lack of utility-sized plants.
on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn