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May 17, 2019

Medicine Hat pulls plug on money-losing $13-million solar power project



As reported in the Calgary Herald, the southern Alberta city of Medicine Hat is pulling the plug on a $13-million concentrated solar power facility after operating it for about five years.

The project’s goal was to test whether the technology was a feasible way to employ the sun’s heat to replace some of the natural gas used to make steam at the city-owned power plant, said Coun. Phil Turnbull, chairman of the city’s utility committee.

The answer, unfortunately, was no, as the project’s small and unreliable contribution to the community’s power needs didn’t justify the cost of maintaining its rows of mirrors and pipes through snowy winters and dusty summer days, he said.

“I think people sometimes look at what we did and say, ’What a waste of money.’ But it wouldn’t have been a waste if it had been successful in taking it to the next step,” Turnbull said Thursday.

“Sometimes you win on trying to develop new initiatives and sometimes you don’t.”

The project was to add about one megawatt of power to the 250-MW capacity main power plant, but it often didn’t even supply that much, he said.

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas — which the city can source from its utility’s gas wells — has fallen dramatically from when the project was contemplated and is now much more cost-competitive than solar, Turnbull said.

The solar project’s original $9-million cost was shared equally by federal, provincial and city governments, he said. The city stepped up to cover subsequent cost overruns.

Medicine Hat’s experience is consistent with evidence that suggests Canada is too far north and doesn’t get enough uninterrupted sun to make concentrated solar work, said Mike Johnson, technical leader on the energy supply team for the National Energy Board.

For that reason, a recent NEB report he wrote on the economics of solar power in Canada looked mainly at the use of photovoltaic panel systems, which convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity and are much cheaper to build than concentrated solar.

Keep reading in the Calgary Herald


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