Solar surge aims to dispel concern in southern Alberta
Local proponents of solar power are hoping a slew of major project announcements will turn the tide of public opinion about the potential, while elected officials are excited about jobs and new revenue for municipalities.
In the past month, utility developers have announced six solar projects will be built within an hour’s drive of Medicine Hat. Separately, two substantial windfarms will be built near Dunmore and Bow Island, bringing the cumulative construction budget to more than $800 million over two years.
The news has also been met with skepticism, especially on social media, from those questioning the benefits, the economics and even how the facilities would operate in snowy or cloudy conditions.
Marcus Campbell, whose local firm Terralta designs and installs residential and commercial solar systems, not industrial-scale facilities, says the projects will demystify the sector for many.
“The announcements are great for the industry – exposure is everything,” said Campbell, and added that he’s seen the same questions online about snow build-up or cold weather shutting down production.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he said, but added that despite it all, “We’re flat out going 100 miles an hour” arranging home improvement and other smaller-scale projects for this summer’s construction season.
“I’ve been in business for 10 years, I employ 15 workers, and we now have 10 years of data that proves it works.”
Ontario-based Canadian Solar and German utility giant Innogy say that improved, less-expensive technology means their plants can complete with conventional generation sources on price.
The two firms will begin construction on solar fields in Suffield and Vauxhall, respectively this spring. Four others are planned to be in service by the end of 2020.
That would involve up to 500 construction jobs in each of the next two summers.
“These are typically very labour intensive during construction, and contractors will take all the local labour they can get,” said Patrick Bateman, vicepresident of the Canadian Solar Industry Association. “That’s good opportunity for trades workers.”
Required are electricians, equipment operators, steel workers, cement formers, carpenters, general labour, welders and other tradespeople.
There are also knock-on effects for suppliers, truck drivers and wages paid in to food and accommodation sectors, according to a report released in conjunction of the SEEDS Economic diversification conference held in Medicine Hat in 2016
That study was commissioned by Verge Economic development, representing rural municipalities in the southeast Alberta, Alberta Labour and Medicine Hat College.
It states that building 150 megawatts of solar generating capacity could total as much as $30 million over 20 years for rural municipalities, and $54 million in lease payments over the same period to landowners.
Recently announced solar projects, totalling 134.5 megawatts, are located in Cypress County, Special Areas No. 2, County of Newell and three in the Municipal District of Taber.
Taber Reeve Merril Harris said the Municipal District has six projects approved on its books, of which three are awaiting company decisions on moving ahead.
“We’ve been expecting this to happen for quite a while, and it’s finally good news that they’ll go ahead,” said Harris, who stated concerns in the local permitting process centred on fire control and the decommissioning process.
“We’ve hopefully done our homework and had the concerns of everyone addressed … It’s an investment in the future, we believe to have these projects in the M.D.”