In 2019, just east of Swift Current, the province’s first utility-scale solar plant will be operation.
The 80-acre-project in the RM of Coulee is the first of two 10 megawatt (MW) plants that SaskPower plans to have operational before 2021 – part of their foray into renewable energy.
“Ten megawatts is relatively small compared to the amount of generation we have in the province,” admitted Doug Opseth, generation asset management director for SaskPower.
It’s just 0.22 per cent of Saskatchewan’s nearly 4,500 MW generating capacity, but by 2030 solar, along with biomass, geothermal and other renewable sources (excluding wind and hydro) are expected to account for as much as five per cent of the generating capacity.
The province has set the goal of generating up to 50 per cent renewable energy, and reducing emissions by 40 per cent of 2005 by 2030.
“Adding this first utility scale solar project will allow us to get an understanding of how it operates on our grid. Certainly as you look towards the future the prices of solar and wind are coming down so I can see us adding lots more solar and wind in the future,” Opseth said.
The Highfield Solar Project will generate enough energy to power 2,000 homes, and will cost roughly $15 million according to the company who was awarded the contract.
“It’s probably in the neighbourhood of 1.5 million per megawatt,” explained Saturn Power Inc. co-founder Ray Roth.
Highfield is one of two 10 MW projects that the province expects to begin operation in the near future, part of a goal to generate 60 MW of solar energy by 2021.
“We’re looking at doing a similar type process that will come out next year, and then we’re also looking at adding more solar through our customer programs and then through our partnership with the First Nations Power Authority (FNPA),” Opseth added.
According to the SaskPower website, both the FNPA and community generated solar are expected to create 20 MW of power.
Roth said the Highfield Solar plant will last decades, noting it could be 40 years before the panels need to be replaced, despite technological advances increasing efficiency.
The solar plants are an addition to the existing power grids, and aren’t expected to result in the loss of any jobs.
Roth expects the construction of the project to create upwards of 100 jobs. Once operational Highfield will employ just two people on site, and occasionally hire local contractors.
“We’ll have people monitoring it remotely. There’s grass cutting – which locals will be involved in – some local maintenance work. We try to include local people, and always have a good relationship with local contractors and farmers,” he added.
According to the SaskPower website, a contract for a 200 MW wind farm is expected to be awarded by the end of the month.