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Solar projects continue to make M.D. inroads

Posted on November 8, 2017 by Taber Times

By Cole Parkinson
Taber Times

With multiple solar projects in the works already, the M.D. of Taber is setting its sights on a new proposal.

Sunset Solar was in council chambers to discuss their solar project located near Grassy Lake at the M.D.’s regular meeting on Oct. 24.

With numerous solar projects already approved, the delegation from Sunset Solar, which consisted of three people from three different companies who are in a partnership for the project, was hoping to get their information to the M.D. council.

“The project that we’re proposing is a 60 megawatt AC solar facility, so that converts the energy from the sun directly into electrical current. It’s not a concentrator system, which some people often think about, that ends up boiling water or something to that effect. The location is about one kilometre southwest of Grassy Lake,” said Dan Andres, vice president of Perimeter Solar. “The project site consists of 610 acres spread out over four quarters of main blocks of land and a few other smaller parcels as well. It’s anticipated that it will produce annually enough electricity to power 15,000 Alberta homes based on average Alberta electricity use. One of the assists of the project is it’s located right adjacent to a 130k transmission line for interconnection which means that there is no need to build additional transmission infrastructure. Right now we’ve targeted to tentatively have a commercial operation date of fall 2020.”

With the operation date still a few years away, council had questions about the life span of the panels once in operation.

“The life span of the project would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 years. With solar projects there is an opportunity at the end of a life span of the panels to replace the panels themselves and use existing infrastructure onsite to extend the lifespan of the project,” said Andres.

As solar power is still a relatively new endeavour, especially in Alberta, the internal workings of solar panels are still a mystery for most people outside of the industry.

Council was curious as to what in the panels wears out and causes the lifespan to last only a certain amount of years.

“The photovoltaic cells themselves, so the panels,” said Andres. “The panels themselves typically have a 25 year guaranteed life span. It all depends, technology evolves quite quickly so 25 years in, it may even be worthwhile to update with newer technology. If we had a crystal ball we’d love to tell you. The technical engineers that produce these do product testing, where they would submit them to environmental conditions that would simulate the lifespan over the years. With the amount of energy hitting them, they look at the degradation in the cells themselves so they can come up with a lifespan on that.”

They also stated that southern Alberta’s windy conditions wouldn’t be any issue as they would reinforce the structure to combat those weather concerns.

With the delegates not entirely familiar with the area, they made it their mission to make contact with not only the M.D. but also local companies.

“We have made it our precedence to make sure that we are advised by local companies, whether it’s on the environmental and interconnection engineering, regulatory consultants or environmentalists to make sure that we really understand it,” said Jennifer Cogdell, director for ET Capital Inc.

Another industry that the group knows they need to be cognizant of is agriculture.

They are working with the land owner to ensure livestock can live in unison with the panels and they say 95 per cent of the land is available for agriculture.

“One of the key things that we wanted to do from the outset is make these solar projects work with agriculture. From the early stages talking with Keith (Ypma), the idea being thrown around was having sheep on site. Sheep are an excellent alternative to mowing, not only do they do a better job of it but they’re also good at controlling weeds. They graze in every nook and crevice including under the panels themselves and of course they make money which is always nice. This is a really good solution for solar energy to work with agriculture also the solar panels provide shade, refuge from weather such as winds and downpours,” said Andres.

As part of the work for the project, the group had to consulate with residents within 800 metres.

On top of that they talked with every resident within two kilometres to get feedback from the community, which they say has been very positive.

One concern that was brought up in council chamber was how much noise the solar facility would generate.

They ensured noise wouldn’t be very noticeable outside of the project limits.

“The project won’t generate any noticeable noise to local residents as part of Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). We’re required to do a noise impact assessment to determine what noise, if any, would extend outside of the project area. The only noise generating feature are the transformers and inverters onsite and typically those are located internally more so then the edges of the site. With the panels themselves they act as almost like a noise barrier. Being right next to one it’s roughly the same sound as a loud fridge running so by the outside of the project noise is minimal. Any noise that is generated, we have to follow the guidelines from the AUC,” said Andres who also stated they have already contracted somebody to do the noise impact assessment.

While the construction of the project is still a ways off, the delegation stated many jobs would be available once they get underway.

“During the construction of the project there will be significant employment generated, approximately 115 to 190 workers onsite during the roughly 18 months of construction period. Two to three full time technicians onsite that will be in charge of operations of the facility. One of the things that I like to think about is, being in a rural area often times it seems like urban areas get the perks. But in this case, some of it may be consumed in the M.D. but the majority is being pushed out to urban areas such as Calgary and the people who use electricity there and pay for it allow this project to be feasible and generate property tax revenue in the M.D. We’re really looking at to the extent possible wherever it is to have local employees for this work too,” said Andres.

The solar panels are roughly 3.3 metres in height and the team for Sunset Solar still has some decisions to make in regard to the panels themselves.

The choice lies within which type of system they go with as one will cost more to operate but it would also capture more energy.

“Right now we are evaluating whether we want to go with the fixed tilted system, so the panel typically face in the southernly direction at 25 or 35 degree angle and they don’t move. Or there is the other option of single axis tracker and those panels track from east in the morning to west in the evening. Higher energy capture from the sun but of course moving parts so higher expense for installation,” said Andres.

The team at Sunset Solar are still in the process of getting an AUC application together as well as completing the Alberta Environment and Parks investigation and report before they move onto the next steps of the process.

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