It’s no secret that anything to do with the energy sector in Canada is notoriously layered in levels of bureaucracy. But recently, a major (and final) hurdle has been overcome. The largest solar energy project in Canada – and one of the largest in the world – has received Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approval. And Calgary’s Greengate Power Corp. is all set to start construction in southern Alberta next year.
“We now have our licence to construct and operate the Travers Solar Project,” says Dan Balaban, Greengate president and CEO. “We’re just finalizing the financing and detailed design, and if things go according to plans, we hope to be under construction in the first half of 2020 and fully operational by the end of 2021.”
He explains that equally or more important than the technicalities and bureaucracy is the critical natural resource factor. “Most importantly, Alberta is the sunshine state of the North. We have a tremendous solar resource, which allows for solar photovoltaics (the conversion of light into electricity) to be highly productive, especially during our long summer days.
“Travers Solar is particularly compelling because of its scale. It will be the largest solar energy operation in Canada, but the project is sited with transmission running directly through the project lands and few constraints,” he adds. “All of this allows the construction of Travers to be relatively low cost because its design is very simple and repeatable. We are essentially building an outdoor assembly line, so simplicity and repeatability are vital.”
In Alberta’s energy sector, the Greengate Power performance and reputation are solid and respected. It is an industry-leading, privately-held renewable energy company that (since 2007) has successfully developed close to 600 MW of operating or near-operating wind energy projects in Alberta and Ontario, including the 300 MW Blackspring Ridge Wind Project, which is currently the largest-operating wind energy project in Canada. Greengate projects represent well over $1 billion of investment and provide a clean source of power to more than 250,000 homes.
Balaban points out that solar is an interesting technology because it is the lowest-impact way of producing electricity. The electricity industry is one that requires a diverse portfolio of technologies and he notes that between solar, natural gas and wind, Albertans should receive affordable power for years to come.
He openly admits that land use is a contentious sustainability topic throughout Canada and in Alberta, making the positive point that some are surprised to find out the Travers Solar farm will only borrow 0.002 per cent of Alberta’s farmland through its more than 35-year life.
Balaban also mentions the little-known fact that all renewable projects in the province are voluntary – landowners actively choose to use their land for the projects because it makes more economic sense than traditional farming.
Being the largest solar energy project in Canada is not only a bragging right; it has tremendous national and global spinoffs. “From engineering, procurement, construction, supply and financing, there has been a significant Canadian and global interest and global capital,” he says with enthusiasm and pride.
“At a time when Alberta is seeing a significant outflow of foreign direct investment, Travers Solar is a vital opportunity to attract investment in Alberta. There was more invested globally in renewable energy last year than downstream, midstream and refining of oil and gas combined. Renewable energy is a highly sought-after asset class among global investors.”