The southern Alberta city of Medicine Hat is pulling the plug on a $13-million concentrated solar power facility after operating it for about five years. (Black Press Media file photo) The southern Alberta city of Medicine Hat is pulling the plug on a $13-million concentrated solar power facility after operating it for about five years. (Black Press Media file photo)

Southern Alberta city pulls plug on $13-million solar power project

Goal was to test whether the technology was a feasible way to make steam at city-owned power plant

The southern Alberta city of Medicine Hat is pulling the plug on a $13-million concentrated solar power facility after operating it for about five years.

The project’s goal was to test whether the technology was a feasible way to employ the sun’s heat to replace some of the natural gas used to make steam at the city-owned power plant, said Coun. Phil Turnbull, chairman of the city’s utility committee.

The answer, unfortunately, was no, as the project’s small and unreliable contribution to the community’s power needs didn’t justify the cost of maintaining its rows of mirrors and pipes through snowy winters and dusty summer days, he said.

“I think people sometimes look at what we did and say, ‘What a waste of money.’ But it wouldn’t have been a waste if it had been successful in taking it to the next step,” Turnbull said on Thursday.

“Sometimes you win on trying to develop new initiatives and sometimes you don’t.”

READ MORE: No government can bring back Alberta oil boom, experts say

The project was to add about one megawatt of power to the 250-MW capacity main power plant but it often didn’t even supply that much, he said.

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas — which the city can source from its utility’s gas wells — has fallen dramatically from when the project was contemplated and is now much more cost-competitive than solar, Turnbull said.

The solar project’s original $9-million cost was shared equally by federal, provincial and city governments, he said. The city stepped up to cover subsequent cost overruns.

Medicine Hat’s experience is consistent with evidence that suggests Canada is too far north and doesn’t get enough uninterrupted sun to make concentrated solar work, said Mike Johnson, technical leader on the energy supply team for the National Energy Board.

For that reason, a recent NEB report he wrote on the economics of solar power in Canada looked mainly at the use of photovoltaic panel systems, which convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity and are much cheaper to build than concentrated solar.

“Medicine Hat, it’s a really sunny climate for Canada, but it’s not quite the same as a place like Nevada,” Johnson said.

In February, the former NDP government granted a 20-year contract to buy power from a partnership that plans to build three new solar power plants for more than $100 million in southern Alberta.

The plants are to produce about 94 megawatts from photovoltaic cells at peak times, enough to power about 20,000 homes.

In Medicine Hat, meanwhile, the utility committee’s next chore is figuring out by next fall what to do with the mothballed project.

Turnbull said suggestions have included selling the gear to industry, donating it to a research college or creating a renewable energy park on the site.

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Town of Blackfalds taking next step towards a new brand

Mayor Richard Poole wants everyone in the community to help shape the future direction of Blackfalds

PODCAST: The Expert discusses affordable housing in Lacombe

Members of the Affordable Housing Steering Commission joins the show

Lacombe Curling Club hosts Alberta Senior Provincials

Teams skipped by Wade White, Cheryl Bernard take home top spots

City of Lacombe property owners asked to review their 2020 assessments

Property Assessment Notices were mailed out on Friday February 14

Kin Canada celebrates 100th anniversary in Lacombe

Lacombe Kinsmen Club will be join over 400 clubs nation-wide in celebrating the 100th Anniversary

WATCH: Night Among the Stars Celebrity Dance-off supports Lacombe BBBS

Over $12,000 raised for Dancer’s Edge Parents Association and Lacombe BBBS

Sylvan Lake RCMP on scene at serious, multi vehicle collision

There is no access westbound on Aspelund Road from the intersection.

Carbon risk for Alberta’s public pension manager questioned

AIMCo says nearly $115 billion invested in carbon-intensive industries is on par with other funds

Worker, shocked at future Amazon warehouse in Nisku, has died: family

Colton Quast, 25, was taken to hospital and put in a medically induced coma

Blockade supporting Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on rail line in Edmonton

‘Cuzzins for Wet’suwet’en’ post pics of wooden crates on line, signs saying ‘No Pipelines on Stolen Land’

Higher costs should kill Trans Mountain pipeline, federal opposition says

Most recent total was $12.6 billion, much higher than a previous $7.4-billion estimate

Trudeau says Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades a critical moment for country

First Nations leaders suggest it may be time to peacefully end the blockades

AFN national chief calls for calm on Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades

Hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose the natural-gas pipeline

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

Most Read