Canada’s largest solar project now under construction in Alberta

The Travers Solar Installation — Canada’s largest — is now under construction in Vulcan County, Alberta.

Greengate Power is the lead developer on the project, which will include 1.3 million solar panels spanning nearly 3,300 acres (13.35 km squared). The project will produce enough electricity to power 150,000 homes, and according to a member of the Greengate Power team — who crunched the numbers on their smartphone — the site will be the equivalent size of 1,600 Canadian football fields.

The Travers Solar Installation will be located entirely on unproductive land in a concerted effort to protect critical farmland. In addition, the project will utilize axis-tracking, bi-facial — or double-sided solar panels, allowing for greater electricity production year-round.

When speaking on the benefits of the project, Greengate Chief Executive Dan Balabansaid, “It creates long-term economic benefits in the form of local jobs, [a] significant contribution to the municipal tax base, [and] payments to landowners and a community fund.” The site will also provide substantial environmental benefits by reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by 472,000 tonnes annually.

Among the backdrop of COP26 — a global climate conference set up to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — this project demonstrates Alberta’s exploitable potential in renewable resources, something which has long been underutilized. The Travers Solar project alone will almost double the province’s renewable energy generation — though at a steep price tag for Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the investment firm putting up the $700 million in funding.

According to the Canada Energy Regulator forecast, 26% of Alberta’s electricity generation will come from renewables by 2023, rising steadily from 16% in 2017. Alberta expects to install nearly 2,000 megawatts of green energy by 2030.

With sunny days making up roughly 88% of the year, Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan represent Canada’s brightest spot for solar deployment.

Darren Christie, chief economist for the Canada Energy Regulator, describes the conditions for a renewable energy revolution in Alberta as “ripe.” He cites the province’s concerted effort to phase out coal generation as a sizable window of opportunity for new methods of electricity generation.

Canada’s oil and gas-rich western provinces are expected to lead the way in short-term renewable energy growth. Whereas currently, the two largest solar projects (Sol-Luce and Grand Renewable Energy Park) are in Ontario, the spatial concentration of renewable energy is quickly shifting west.

Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Economics, pointed to the deregulated nature of energy production in Alberta as a reason for such significant private investment.

Insolvent oil and gas companies previously abandoned Vulcan County without paying owed tax bills, resulting in an $8 million loss for the community. Subsequently, Vulcan County Reeve Jason Schneider is eager to refill the tax coffers, foster new private investment, and get members of his community back to work.

*The above feature graphic is not an actual photo of the project.