A massive field of solar panels could be erected on top of contaminated land in southeast Calgary if a proposed renewable energy project is approved by city council.
Ireland-based DP Energy has set its sights on 63 hectares of land in Shepard Industrial Park for a solar farm project that, if approved, would become the largest such facility in Western Canada.
More than 1,500 panels, generating an anticipated 25 megawatts of renewable power, are proposed for the former industrial site adjacent to Barlow Trail S.E., between 114th Avenue and 106th Avenue S.E.
The value of the proposed project is estimated between $40 million and $50 million.
The site east of Quarry Park, owned by Viterra, was formerly a fertilizer production facility that was capped within the past 10 years and is no longer in use.
Coun. Shane Keating, whose ward would be home to the proposed project, said a solar farm is a “perfect” use for the brownfield site.
“This site has been used for the production of fertilizer for decades. It’s similar to a closed landfill — because of the possibility of what’s in the ground, you can’t start developing on it,” Keating said.
“So we’re using land that would not really produce any benefit to the city and now we’re putting something on there that gives not only the benefit of renewable energy, but it gives a revenue stream to the city as far as taxes.”
The privately funded project received the unanimous approval of the Calgary planning commission on Thursday, though it will have to go to a full vote of council for final approval.
Representatives from DP Energy were in attendance at the meeting Thursday. One representative confirmed that there would be local jobs associated with construction of the facility and ongoing maintenance, but declined to comment further.
The solar farm would sell electricity to the power grid, with the ability to power up to 4,000 homes. Once built, it would usurp the Brooks solar plant as the largest solar facility in Western Canada.
Construction could potentially begin this year if the project is approved by council following a public hearing in March.
“(Solar technology) has progressed significantly in the last 10 years or so, and the costs are coming down and it’s becoming a lot more viable,” said Angie Dean, a senior planner with the city. “I think we’re going to see a lot more projects like this in the future, this just happens to be the first one.”
Several members of the planning commission urged the city to try to replicate the project on other “challenging” pieces of land around the city.
“There are very few options for putting unremediated land into active economic use, and personally I cannot think of a better way with such low impact and with such high societal benefit,” said commissioner Paul Gedye. “I hope this is a runaway success.”
Coun. Evan Woolley said there are also intangible benefits from having a large-scale solar project within city boundaries, with the possibility of students benefiting from private-public partnerships.
“I think universities are looking at this,” Woolley said. “There’s a lot of learnings we can take out of this.”