Mayor Greg Krischke could barely contain his enthusiasm as he announced the opening of the largest rooftop solar system in Western Canada in his home city of Leduc, Alberta — the city that was also home to the birth of the oil industry in 1947. The 3,622 solar modules being installed on this building's roof will provide 1.1 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity each year, he said. With Alberta Energy Minister Marg McQuaig-Boyd watching, Krischke noted, “There's about nine megawatts of solar power in Alberta right now. So, with the addition of this 1.1 megawatts, this project alone represents more than a 10 per cent increase to that capacity. This is an important project for Leduc, and indeed, the province, that will contribute towards our sustainability goals in clean energy.”
The birthplace of Alberta oil
Leduc Number 1 was a last-ditch oil well drilled on Feb. 13, 1947 that erupted with light crude and changed the course of history in Alberta. “It (Leduc) was the birthplace of energy. And it's fitting that this also should be the birthplace of alternative energy where we can think sustainably into the future,” Krischke told Green Energy Futures. Krischke said he was impressed when he attended the opening of a 100 kilowatt solar project on the community centre in neighbouring Devon, Alberta. Instead of saying we’re taking a certain number of vehicles off the road: “There was a big screen on the inside and it counts down how many dollars you're saving and how much energy is produced.” “When people can actually see in dollars and cents how much money is being saved because solar is installed on a roof, that really got me thinking that we could convince our community that this is the right thing to do,” said Krischke.
And timing is everything: ENMAX, Leduc’s energy provider, developed this solar project and was able to bring funding from the Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation to the table to sweeten the deal. Leduc agreed to install 1.1 megawatts on the recreation centre and another 600 kilowatts on the city’s public works shop for a total cost of $3.5 million. By the time the climate change money was applied, Leduc was paying about $1.48/watt, a figure that the city conservatively estimates will pay for itself in less than 15 years. The modules are guaranteed for 25 years. But these numbers start to look even better when you consider the avoided carbon levies that start next year. McCuaig-Boyd confirmed Alberta’s new Energy Efficiency Agency “will support diversification, just as this project has.”
ENMAX chose Great Canadian Solar, a small Edmonton-based company, to be the installer for this project. “To put this in perspective, when I started the company in 2009, it took four years to install one megawatt in the province. Now we're going to install it within four to six weeks,” said company president Clifton Lofthaug.
Alberta's solar industry is growing in more than just megawatts
Thanks to the support from climate change funds, “I think municipalities who are coming on board realize that investing in solar is a really good opportunity for them because somewhere down the line, say somewhere between 12 and 15 years, this system will be paid off, possibly sooner and it's going produce electricity for free at that point,” said Lofthaug. Prior to this project, Lofthaug’s seven-year-old company employed seven people as their “core installation design and project management team.” But this opportunity has provided them with great growth potential. “We've since hired on 10 additional employees and we're looking to potentially hire on about two more. So we've more than doubled our staff,” said Lofthaug. In a way Lofthaug is lucky; while the industry has been somewhat on hold while waiting on announcements of new programs to come as part of Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan, this project was supported by a small program that already existed at the CCEMC. Great Canadian Solar is as ready as any company could be for the coming boom in solar. When he thinks about the future Lofthaug would like to be installing about 10 megawatts per year. That’s as much solar as has been installed in all of Alberta’s history. For now, Lofthaug is focusing on streamlining his business and becoming as efficient as possible, to be competitive when the boom hits.
ENMAX has been able to move nine megawatts of solar PV even as the CCEMC funding winds down, effectively doubling the current solar in Alberta. Leduc is the biggest project done by ENMAX to date, but company president and CEO Gianna Manes is looking to the future. “Certainly the government of Alberta, as part of their climate leadership plan, has set a goal to be off of coal electricity by 2030 and to replace a large portion of that with renewable energy,” said Manes. “And ENMAX, as a large participant in the electricity sector here in Alberta, we look forward to participating.” As for Leduc, the city plans to complete their two large solar projects and then collect some data over the next few years to see what more they can do.