So­lar surge aims to dis­pel con­cern in south­ern Al­berta

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Oyen - BY COLLIN GAL­LANT — South­ern Al­berta News­pa­pers

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.”

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