Here comes the sun: Solar energy projects gain momentum in southeast Alberta

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A major German energy firm says it plans to begin construction on two solar energy projects in southeastern Alberta this spring.

Innogy says it has acquired the projects from its Canadian development partner, Calgary-based Solar Krafte.

Innogy is a major European power provider with operations in 16 countries and 40,000 employees.

It’s the latest company to show growing interest in developing solar energy fields in the province’s southeast.

The projects are the fifth and sixth to be green-lighted for the region in the last three weeks.

The estimated construction value for the two facilities near Vauxhall is $80 million — all privately financed.

“It could be very busy, and it’s all southern Alberta,” said Jeff Thachuk, CEO of Solar Krafte, which designed and permitted the projects sold this month to Innogy.

“It’s without (subsidy) or government tender in any way shape or form,” said Thachuk. “Over the past seven, eight years, solar has become competitive with other forms of generation, specifically conventional generation.”

For several years industry observers and utility companies have advanced proposals for dozens of solar projects in Alberta, but until this year few were given the go-ahead.

Since 2015, Solar Krafte has signed lease agreements, completed design and planning and gained regulatory approval on about 10 potential solar fields, which it markets to utility firms.

“Our first two projects in Canada are a perfect fit with our strategy to deliver utility-scale solar projects in promising markets,” Thorsten Blanke, head of Innogy’s solar division, said in a news release.

Solar Krafte still owns seven other projects in southern Alberta, including a large 74-megawatt facility proposed near Enchant.

Last week, Ontario-based Canadian Solar Association was awarded a 20-year supply contract for the provincial government.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the agreement was a signal to the sector that it’s time to go ahead with solar power investment in Alberta.

“We’ve been told that it can’t be done, but it’s clear that it can and should be done,” she said.

John Gorman, president of Canadian Solar, told a news conference last week that the capital costs of solar panels have dropped by 90 per cent over 10 years.

The Alberta government contract is attached to an indexed price of 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour. The average market price for consumers this month is 7.1 cents and the average grid price in 2018 was 5.5 cents, according to the Alberta Electric System Operator.

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