ESTEVAN — Members of the public had their opportunity to speak to SaskPower about the proposed solar power facility for Estevan, during a public engagement session at the Estevan branch of the Royal Canadian Legion on Oct. 26 and 27.
Shawn Silzer and Andrea Boutin from SaskPower were on hand to meet with people and answer any questions they might have. Informational materials were available for people to take home.
SaskPower announced its plans earlier this year to construct a 100-megawatt solar power facility in the Estevan area. It would be the largest solar power plant ever constructed in Saskatchewan.
Joel Cherry, a media relations and issues management consultant with SaskPower, said they attracted close to 40 people, which he said is a satisfactory number.
“Engagement is a really important part of the whole process of bringing a new project to life, so it was good to get out and hear people’s concerns,” said Cherry.
People wanted to know where the facility would be located, the type of land it would be built on, the cost of the facility, the potential economic spinoff and the jobs that would be created. Silzer and Boutin answered their questions whenever possible.
“Some questions we were able to field and certain other things will come out as part of the RFP [request for proposals] process as well,” said Cherry. “So generally we heard a whole variety of questions from people in the area, and it’s good to get that sort of engaged feedback from people because we are able to use that going forward for this project and others.”
Other people asked about SaskPower’s future supply plans and how solar fits into an equation that also includes coal-fired power and carbon capture and storage.
“Some people rightly said solar is only available when the sun shines, whereas coal, for example, which has a long history in Estevan, is available 24-7,” said Cherry. “We want to get across that this isn’t to replace coal per se, it’s part of our future supply plan that includes a whole diverse mix of options.”
Solar is great because it can support the system with emissions-free power during the day when the sun is shining, he said, and SaskPower can backstop it with different options for power sources when solar isn’t operating.
He believes it’s also important to have quality engagement from the people who did attend the session.
“We want to get as many people out as possible, obviously, and we did do some advertising of this, but we were able to have productive conversations with a decent number of people,” said Cherry.
SaskPower has selected land southwest of Estevan, not far from the Boundary Dam Power Station, to build the facility. Estevan is known as the Sunshine Capital of Canada due to the amount of sunshine it receives each year, the chosen site is in close proximity to suitable transmission infrastructure, and there is relatively flat landscape.
The solar power facility would be on six to seven quarters of land, which could be at least 1,000 acres, on a site that is presently private farm land.
“SaskPower does own land in the area, but a lot of it is reclaimed coal land,” said Cherry. “And that’s a question that we got, too, from people who attended the open house. Why use agricultural land instead of reclaimed land that SaskPower owns? The reason for that is that reclaimed land is not as stable, and there would be a significant cost increase in constructing a facility on that land.”
The Crown corporation would not own or operate the facility, but will select an independent power producer (IPP) through a competitive process that is currently underway. Eleven IPPs are considered to be qualified.
“We are also in the middle of getting responses from IPPs as to how they would build, operate and decommission the facility. The deadline for those responses is January 2023,” Cherry said.
The successful IPP is expected to be selected next summer. Once the IPP is selected, construction will begin. The solar power facility is expected to be online in 2026.
With a project of this nature, when it is constructed by a third party, a lot of the details, such as the project itself and the type of solar panels and configuration, will be decided by the successful IPP.