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Massive solar farm within Calgary city limits inches closer to reality

WATCH: Calgary's planning commission is recommending council approve the building of a massive solar farm in the city, which would be the largest in Western Canada. Adam MacVicar reports.

Calgary is one step closer to becoming the home for the largest solar energy production facility in Western Canada.

The city’s planning commission heard a proposal on Thursday from DP Energy, an Irish renewable energy company looking to build the facility in southeast Calgary’s Shepard Industrial Park.

The 156-acre facility would see the construction of 1,576 solar panels that are expected to generate 25 megawatts of electricity; officials believe that type of production could power up to 4,000 homes.

While officials with DP Energy didn’t speak with media following Thursday’s meeting, they said the cost of the project is ballparked between $40 million and $50 million, all privately funded.

“Renewable energy is the way of the future and we really need to move towards that,” said Angie Dean, a senior planner with the City of Calgary. “I haven’t seen any opposition to this project and I don’t anticipate that we will.”

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READ MORE: Largest solar energy project in Western Canada could be built within Calgary city limits

It took the planning commission mere minutes to give the project their unanimous approval, although it will need full approval from city council.

“As we seek, as a municipality, to reduce our [greenhouse gas) footprint, having the private sector deliver on a project like this is really exciting and really positive for our city,” Ward 8 councillor Evan Woolley said following the meeting.

The proposal from DP Energy will go to in front of city council in March.

Council will need to amend a land-use bylaw for the area, and the project will also need to go to a public hearing.

Once those steps are complete, and pending an approval from council, officials believe work could begin on the site as soon as April.

“The oil and gas sector will remain a key pillar of our economy for decades to come,” Woolley said. “That said, we’ve learned of other forms of energy production, solar being one of those.

“As we seek to diversify our economy and create jobs, as well as the environmental benefit of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, I think this is a positive win-win for everybody.’

The proposed site is owned by Viterra and will be leased to DP Energy. The site is also home to an old tailings pond that has been capped. The capping means development opportunities on the land are limited without costly remediation, but officials believe the fixed-angle solar panels won’t disturb the land underneath.

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“Very little can be done with that land, you can’t disturb the soil unless you remediate, which is a very expensive and lengthy process,” Dean said. “It’s essentially taking all the material off the site and trucking it somewhere else.

“So without remediation, you can’t do anything on the site aside from putting something on top of it, which is what this is.”

READ MORE: Edmonton tech firm to turn windows into solar panels, gets financial boost to go commercial

The solar farm sparks conversation among city officials about future opportunities for unusable land within the city, like the West Village. That area was discussed to be the future home of the former CalgaryNEXT project, but with the land contaminated with creosote, remediation costs were estimated to be as high as $300 million.

“We’ve had some conversations with our administration about other maybe city-owned assets that have environmental liabilities on them, and what other opportunities do we have,” Woolley said. “That’s an important part of our overall climate strategy.”

One solar expert said they believe Alberta is slowly catching up to the advancements in solar energy, and the province has the most favourable conditions for successful solar operations.

“Alberta is a fantastic place for solar,” said Tom Jackman, a green building technologies researcher at SAIT. “We have 25 per cent more solar resource, i.e the sun coming down, than most places in the world.

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“In addition to that, most people don’t know that solar works better when it’s cold, so the colder it gets, the better the solar production is.”

Jackman said the biggest challenge solar energy has in the province is public education, and the initial financial impact of installation.

“People don’t understand it, they don’t know how it would work on their house or their business,” he said. “The second hurdle beyond that is the financial piece; it’s an up-front investment for free energy for the long time.”

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