This is the 10 megawatt Pesâkâstêw Solar Facility near Weyburn, which opened last summer. The proposed facility for Estevan will be 10 times the size, and cover up to seven quarters of land. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

ESTEVAN – SaskPower held a two day open-house regarding at proposed 100 megawatt solar facility on Oct-26-27 at the Estevan Legion Hall.

In actuality, it’s not just a single project of 100 megawatts, but two projects – a 100 megawatt solar facility and a secondary, up to 10 megawatt pilot project.

The 100 megawatt facility is to be built on seven quarters of land approximately 10 kilometres southwest of the Boundary Dam Power Station. While SaskPower has large swaths of reclaimed mine land in the area, this block of farmland was chosen because it was undisturbed. Building on disturbed land would mean the foundations would be more costly.

It’s seven quarters of land in total, 1,120 acres or 453 hectares. The land has been optioned, but has not yet been purchased. It falls within the southwest corner of the RM of Estevan, Township 1, Range 9, west of the second meridian.

The yellow outline is the land designated for Estevan’s proposed 100 megawatt solar facility. The line along the top is Highway 18. The yellow line along the bottom is the U.S. border. The southern edge of the facility is four miles north of the border. Google Earth.

 

Pilot project on mined land

But that leads to the additional up to 10 megawatt solar pilot project. SaskPower officials at the open house explained that the successful project developer will be asked to develop a separate solar facility, an up to 10 megawatts, on reclaimed mine land. This would be “With the hopes that we may be able to use coal reclaimed land for future projects,” according to a frequently asked questions (FAQ) handout.

“We do want to be able to use our own land. We just need more information about how that would work,” said the SaskPower officials on Oct. 27.

The same IPP would develop the pilot project on reclaimed mine land as well.

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In that FAQ, the Crown corporation said, “SaskPower has selected land near Estevan to build the province’s largest solar facility because of its abundance of sunny days, its proximity to suitable transmission infrastructure, and the relatively flat landscape.

SaskPower is not seeking to build and operate the project itself. Rather it is seeking bids from companies which will act as an independent power producer (IPP). This is the model that has been used for most of the wind power generation development in Saskatchewan. The company said there are multiple IPPs in the industry with experience owning and operating such facilities.

Like wind, the solar power generation is part of SaskPower’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

25 years and done

The project is expected to have a 25 year lifespan. Requests for proposals went out on Sept. 29. IPPs had a site visit on Oct. 25. Stakeholder consultation is currently underway, the results of which will be shared with the IPPS in mid-November. Their proposals are expected in mid-January, 2023, with the contract to be awarded by SaskPower in the summer of 2023. The facility is expected to be in service by 2026. With that 25-year lifespan, it should be reaching “end of life” around the frequently cited “net-zero by 2050.”

Disposal of up to 1,120 acres of panels (with an actual physical panel area likely around 220 acres) at the end of life will be the responsibility of the IPP, and reclamation plans will be part of the assessment. “The IPP will be expected to return the project site to pre-development conditions based on industry standards and consultation with local stakeholders and the appropriate regulatory government bodies,” the FAQ said. Additionally, SaskPower would step in if the IPP is not able to do this, and will include a “remediation cost guarantee” to ensure the IPP is responsible for reimbursement of SaskPower should that be the case.

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Asked where these solar panels would go, such as an industrial landfill, the SaskPower officials said it would be according to the environmental regulations at the time, which will likely be different from today.

SaskPower said it is handling the community consultation instead of the IPPs. There is an online survey open until Nov. 4 for those who did not have an opportunity to visit the open house. “The successful IPP will engage directly with the community once they have been selected,” the FAQ said.

In 25 years, the solar panels covering up to 1,120 acres will need to be disposed of, if they don’t wear out or get destroyed by hail during that time. As seen from this picture looking straight down, and with the panels angled to follow the sun, the actual coverage is likely around 20 per cent of the total acreage. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

A further open house is expected the summer of 2023 to discuss specific plans for the project from the chosen IPP.

SaskPower said weed control will be a requirement of its lease with the IPP.

If solar panels fail or deteriorate during the service life, the IPP will be responsible for the “proper disposal of any obsolete or broken panels in a way that reflect RM regulations, obligations under the contract with SaskPower, and any other regulatory obligations.”

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RM will get taxes

As presented by the FAQ, the Rural Municipality of Estevan will not be a direct part of the decision making process between competing bids. Rather, it will be handed a chosen IPP as something of a fait accompli, after which point then the RM will be able to deal directly with the project proponent.

It will be taxable by the RM, the FAQ noted. But the RM will not be able to see the proposals submitted before a successful candidate is chosen. RM officials will only be shown the final version. If local residents or the RM have grievances, they will have to take it up with the IPP.

SaskPower did say there are some solar facilities where the land below the panels is used for livestock grazing. But that will be up to the IPP’s proposal. But they do not anticipate any crop production within the facility.

Fencing at Pesâkâstêw Solar Facility near Weyburn is chainlinked and topped with barbed wire, making it difficult if not impossible for deer, moose or antelope to pass through. The proposed Estevan facility would be 10 times in size, not counting the separate pilot project. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Fencing and wildlife

As for wildlife, the area will be fenced, but what type of fencing is yet to be determined by the developer. Fencing at the new 10 megawatt solar facility at Weyburn is chainlinked, and topped with barbed wire, which blocks most animal passage. That’s for a small facility, whereas this 100 megawatt facility would cover seven quarters. Asked if fencing would block animal passage, and thus block off animal habitat, the SaskPower officials said they don’t have that level of detail yet.

Hail that fell in June, 2018, just a few miles to the west of the proposed solar facility. Facebook

Hail threat

This area was struck heavily with hail on June 14, 2018, so hard that Boundary Dam Power Station was taken out of commission as its transmission lines were badly damaged. It resulted in major power disruptions for southeast Saskatchewan.

On that day, a hail storm destroyed everything in its path about 6 miles wide and 30 miles long. Saskatchewan Municipal Hail’s 2018 annual report noted, “The storm of June 14th occurred a day prior to the SMHI crop report ­ling deadline and produced devastating losses in the southeast corner of the province. SMHI received claims on 108,372 acres totalling losses of $2.9 million.”

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Asked how it will deal with hail, the SaskPower officials said they’re built to withstand severe weather. But if damaged, that becomes the responsibility of the developer to replace them because they have to fulfill the contract to deliver power.

If the facility is taken out by hail, SaskPower would rely on its other generation sources or interconnect, just as it would with the possible shut down of any other facility.

Indigenous participation

The project will require a minimum 10 per cent Indigenous ownership requirement of the IPP, as well as operational experience and financial requirements. The ownership content can be done through a partnership, as an example.

“Economic reconciliation with Indigenous people,” ensuring their participation in generation projects, the SaskPower officials explained is part of the Crown corporation’s priorities, involving them “in the energy transformation.”

Comparison to similar Alberta facility

If this Estevan facility is built, it will not only be the largest, by far, in Saskatchewan, but it will be larger than all but one of Alberta’s 27 grid-scale solar facilities. The closest Alberta solar facility in scale to the proposed 100 megawatt Estevan facility would be the Claresholm 2 facility, at 75 megawatts.

Claresholm 2 is at a similar latitude, at 50’ 3” north, while Estevan’s would be at 49’ 3” north. Claresholm 1 and 2 combined are capable of 132 megawatts. That project was projected at $162.7 million in 2019. It went online in April, 2021. The project generated more than 350 full-time jobs in Alberta during the construction period and employed more than 650 skilled workers at the site during the peak phase, according to Power-Technology.com. At 1,280 acres, the two facilities combined are almost exactly equal in size to the proposed Estevan facility.

According to Dispatcho.app, which logs minute-by-minute data from the Alberta Electric System Operator, on Oct. 26, the first day of SaskPower’s Estevan open house, Claresholm 2 provided near its full 75 megawatt capacity, with few cloud interruptions, most of the day. It started contributing 1 megawatt of power at 8:30 a.m., slowly ramping up in a linear fashion until 10:50, when it hit 70 megawatts. Scattered clouds resulted in some dips until 11:37 a.m., at which point it was producing a consistent 74 to 75 megawatts until 3:07 p.m. At that point power production dropped in a linear fashion until 5:51 p.m., when it contributed its last 2 megawatts to the system. This solar power facility thus produced full power (with the exception of a few clouds for 40 minutes, inclusive, from 10:57 a.m. to 3:07 p.m., a period of 4 hours and 10 minutes. It produced partial power during the ramp-up and ramp-down for 5 hours and 1 minute.

Claresholm 2 on Oct. 26. Dispatcho.app

However, on Oct. 21, Claresholm 2 produced next to no power. Its first megawatt was generated at 9:59 and throughout the entire day, it produced no more than 6 megawatts, with several periods of zero power production during daylight hours. At 5:09 p.m. it produced its last 2 megawatts. On that day, during the time it was producing power, the 75 megawatt facility produced zero power for 2 hours and 35 minutes.

The graph below is not to the same vertical scale as the above graph. If it were overlain on the above graph, it would be nearly flatlined.

Claresholm 2 on Oct. 21. Dispatcho.app

That day, Claresholm 2 produced 15 megawatt hours, 2.9 per cent of the 510 megawatt-hours of power production the very same facility produced five days later, on Oct. 26. Claresholm 1 showed nearly identical performance, never producing more than 4 megawatts on Oct. 21 out of it 58 megawatt capacity, with similar periods of zero power production. It produced only 10 megawatt-hours that day.

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Shortest day, longest day examples

During the shortest day of the year, Dec. 21, 2021, Claresholm 2 produced power from 9:56 a.m. until 5:06 p.m. It spiked briefly at 28 megawatts, but most of the day produced between 8 and 10 megawatts, for a total power production of 63 megawatt-hours for the day. A more idealized December day, Dec. 17, saw 288 megawatt-hours produced from 9:47 a.m. to 5:10 p.m., apparently without any clouds.

Since the summer solstice of June 21 was partially cloudy, on June 26, power was produced from 6:24 a.m., climbing linearly to full 75 megawatts production at 10:36 a.m., remaining there until 4:28 p.m before falling linearly until 8:47 p.m. Power was produced a total of 14 hours and 23 minutes, with full power for 5 hours and 52 minutes, almost exactly one quarter of the day. Partial power was produced for 8 hours and 31 minutes. Total power production during the day was 717 megawatt-hours.

Claresholm 2 on June. 26. Dispatcho.app

 

That means that a similar power facility to the Estevan, built with current technology and at a similar latitude, this is what you can expect: On an idealized summer day when the sun is highest in the sky, expect to produce full power for roughly six hours and partial power for eight and half hours. And during an ideal day in the darkest week of winter, it would produce power for eight hours in total, but would not hit peak power production at all during that day, as evidenced by Claresholm 2.

Claresholm 2 on June. 26. At no point in the day did the facility reach full power production, and this example was one of the best days in late December to pick as an example of ideal production. Dispatcho.app

 

Coincidentally, Claresholm’s power is sold to pipeline giant TC Energy under an eight-year power purchase agreement to supply 74.25 megawatts. The remainder of its power production goes into the Alberta power pool.

As for Estevan, when asked “What do you do when the sun goes down?” the SaskPower official said, “You don’t generate any solar power.”

 

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Pesâkâstêw Solar Facility opens near Weyburn, first grid-scale solar facility done in cooperation with First Nations Power Authority

Alberta’s wind power has a remarkable day on Saturday, but conversely shows poor solar power production