The man leading the charge to create a community-owned wind energy and solar field near Swift Current says the model could be exported across the provincial boundary to Alberta.
Here, where the Alberta government has pledged support for such projects, a deregulated grid would be easier to connect to, and the same wind and solar resources are in place.
James Glennie is the president of Sask Wind, a Saskatoon-based enterprise which plans to build a $90-million renewable energy facility and is raising capital by selling $1,000 shares to Saskatchewan residents.
However the biggest hurdle, he says, is arranging a purchase agreement with that province’s crown energy agency and battling mistrust and bad press about Ontario’s experience with phasing out coal plants.
“When you invite the local community to buy shares, they realize that they can make a pretty good return, and the opposition disappears,” he said, stating his experience building projects in Germany and Denmark is that co-operatives are more readily accepted by ratepayers who seek investment for their area and want to keep profits local.
“It’s really interesting times in Alberta, and we think that’s a model that could take off there.”
In southeast Alberta, large national and global firms such as NaturEner, Renovalia, Suncor and others are proposing to add several hundred megawatts of green energy.
At the same time, the Alberta government is planning to earmark cash from a new carbon levy to support renewable energy production starting next year.
The province made specific mention in the 2016 budget encouraging community organizations, co-ops and First Nation corporations to apply for energy production grants.
The head Medicine Hat’s contracted economic development agency says his group is working with a variety of groups and companies of various sizes on green energy proposals.
“We believe Medicine Hat could become the epicentre of (renewable energy) industry, just as it was the epicentre for natural gas,” said Ryan Jackson, the lead at Invest Medicine Hat. “(Industry) certainly sees Medicine Hat as a friendly spot.”
Jackson stressed that developing a business plan is the forerunner to raising capital, but community initiatives have worked in the past to provide utility and other services to rural areas.
Glennie said SaskWind is offering buy-in shares similar to farm co-operatives, grazing associations and irrigation districts. A large meeting at the Swift Current I-Plex on July 11 detailed the financing plan as well as solicited land owners who might be interested in turbine sites.
SaskWind would only deal with power production, not retailing, meaning the hurdle is securing a supply contract into Saskatchewan’s regulated energy grid, said Glennie.
Saskatchewan has set the goal of supplying 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, but Glennie said a lack of support for his project was disappointing.
The Alberta Electrical Systems Operator is developing the grant program ahead of a detailed announcement in late 2016 for projects that could be online in 2019.
That could be a reason why large projects appear to be in a holding pattern from the public’s standpoint, said Jackson. Essentially that large companies are waiting to build government support into their models.
This month, Spanish green energy firm Renovalia announced it had applied a two-year extension (to 2019) to complete its Peace Butte Wind project in southeast Alberta.
NaturEner’s Wildrose wind farm south of Irvine is in the late planning stage and would produce 210 megawatts in the first phase.
An agreement between the City of Medicine Hat and the newly formed private Box Springs Wind Corporation sees the municipal utility buy power from three turbines built with private capital on city land. In exchange the city receives lease and tax revenue as well as carbon offsets credit applied to the gas powerplant.
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