Solar Power is Elemental to Alberta
On the east side of Brooks along the Trans Canada Highway is an area that is home to western Canada’s first utility scale solar project. Brought online in 2017, the project has 17 MW of capacity and covers 78 acres.
The project is developed by Elemental Energy, a family-owned business based in Vancouver that describes itself as a hybrid investor/developer and does everything from greenfield development to operating asset acquisition. Elemental Energy’s goal is to create value for their shareholders, communities, and the environment.
The Brooks Solar project is a $33.7 million investment in the local community by the company, with $15 million coming from Emissions Reduction Alberta – the organization that distributes carbon levies from high emitters of greenhouse gases. What makes this project unique is that it was made economical through a corporate off-taker agreement that will see the electricity produced from the solar farm sent to a corporate buyer.
Millen also sees a place for “non-traditional” renewables such as biogas and bioenergy.
This project has also spurred local employment, with just over half of the project staff originating within 75km of Brooks and more than 90% of the project labour from Alberta. Operation and maintenance is being contracted to a Calgary company.
Graeme Millen manages the project. He has an education in journalism and environmental studies, along with an MBA, and has worked in biogas in the agriculture industry.
Millen sees the future of the industry in two categories. The first is “traditional” renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower. Within traditional renewable energy, as Millen defines it, is large-scale and small-scale renewable energy. He believes Alberta will see the development of further reliable, long-term and cost effective large-scale renewable energy projects. Alberta can benefit from best practices for procurements, permitting, and stakeholder engagement from jurisdictions with experience in this area. Millen would also like to see more small-scale projects, such as community-owned renewable energy, because they can contribute to significant investment in local communities.
Millen also sees a place for “non-traditional” renewables such as biogas and bioenergy. He believes Alberta has “the right DNA” to facilitate non-traditional projects at scale due to the province’s familiarity with energy, thermal generation, innovation and entrepreneurialism with large-scale infrastructure that will lead to innovative projects.
In the end, Millen says Alberta is good at developing energy resources and thinks if we properly develop the renewable energy in the province, it will lead to economic diversification.