Alberta Towns, Utility Embrace Solar as ‘the Business of the Future’
Undaunted by a premier avowedly hostile to renewable energy, communities across Alberta are embracing solar electricity as good business, with the small southern town of Raymond determined to be the first in Canada to power itself entirely by the sun.
Two years into a lease-to-own project through Calgary-based utility Enmax, Raymond is well on its way to installing 2,700 solar panels atop all municipal facilities, including its water treatment plant, fire hall, ice arena, and street lights. The project’s C$2.8-million price tag was offset substantially by a $630,000 grant from Alberta’s Municipal Climate Change Action Centre (MCCAC), bringing the installed cost of the panels down below $2 per watt, reports The Canadian Press, in a story picked up by National Observer.
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That rate was “well under the average cost for installation,” which meant the provincial grant “made it very easy to say yes,” said Raymond economic development officer Greg Robinson.
The Centre has spent about $1.5 million of the $6.9 million in provincial carbon tax revenue it had allocated for five years of solar projects. But that may have changed when Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government cancelled the tax and vowed to abolish subsidies for both solar and wind.
While the more than 70 projects MCCAC has initiated across the province have secure funding, “the government is still exploring ideas for the future right now,” said Director Trina Innes.
For Enmax, with more than 1,000 installations in place or under development throughout the province, the business case for solar is rock-solid, said Jason Atkinson, the company’s director of operations for distributed generation. “It’s the business of the future,” he said. “It’s just where society’s going. We want to be out in front of it.”
Among the increasing number of municipalities joining Raymond in the race toward renewables are the mid-northern town of Leduc, which will soon have a 1.14-megawatt installation powering its recreation centre, and Brazeau County in central Alberta, whose water treatment plant, town hall, and fire hall all run on solar.
Environmental benefits aside, Raymond’s solar venture means the town “will avoid any future federal or provincial carbon taxes,” CP notes. And at the end of its 15-year lease with Enmax, the town of 4,200 will be the proud owner of its own power utility.