Western Alberta Launches First Large Scale Solar Project

A $34-million dollar energy project in western Canada will soon power thousands of homes in southeast Alberta by harnessing the sun.

Taking up 78 acres of land beside the Trans-Canada Highway, 50,000 solar panels will source power for 3,000 homes in the County of Newell near Brooks, Alberta. The aptly named Brooks Solar project took seven months to construct and five years of planning.

The solar array was launched last week and is western Canada’s first utility-scale solar project. Led by Vancouver-based developer Elemental Energy, the project received $15 million in funding from Emissions Reduction Alberta.

“Solar energy will ramp up considerably in Alberta in the coming years and this project will help start that momentum,” said Jamie Houssian, principal of Elemental Energy in a September statement. “The execution of Brooks Solar adds to our growing portfolio of projects across North America and represents an important renewable energy milestone for Alberta.”

The Brooks project’s 15-megawatt solar facility far surpasses the former largest solar farm in western Canada, a two-megawatt solar system at Green Acres in southern Alberta.

To keep up with the high demand for electrical power, Alberta has long been a driver coal energy, counting for half of the province’s electricity generation—the most of any region in Canada.

But the province has started a 13-year transition to renewable energy and natural gas, slowly phasing out coal-generated electricity as part of the government’s Climate Leadership Action Plan.

The latest report by the National Energy Board (NEB) on the country’s energy market found 12 per cent of Alberta’s electricity is generated by renewable energy with wind as the largest source of clean power at seven per cent.

While the country has seen a rapidly growing renewable energy sector, Alberta has lagged behind when it comes to adopting new forms of energy and solar energy in the province is virtually untapped.

The NEB reported Canada added 172 MW of solar energy capacity last year, but it is almost entirely exclusive to Ontario. Even so, that makes up only 0.5 per cent of the country’s generated electricity, indicating Canada has a long way to go to make solar energy a viable source of renewable energy.

In November, the federal government partnered with Alberta to invest in 12 cleantech projects in the province, committing $28.8 million in new funding.