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Calgary going green in a big way with new solar power installations

There's a lot of work that has to be done in preparation to put up 175,000 solar panels and a massive amount of space is required for ATCO's two projects that equal about 170 Canadian football fields.

The Barlow project is located northwest of the intersection of Barlow Trail and 114th Avenue and the Deerfoot project is further east on 114th Avenue near 52nd Street. Combined, they will make up the largest solar array in a major urban centre in Western Canada.

Bob Myles, ATCO’s executive vice-president of corporate development, says Microsoft has signed an agreement to purchase power from one of the sites. He says the energy provider set a target of 2050 to be net zero and also has a goal by 2030 to have 1000 megawatts of renewables.

"We spend a lot of time over the last couple of years taking a look at where we want to go as an organization," said Myles. "Renewables and clean fuels are really a space that we feel we can participate, it's really our commitment to the energy transition side of the world."

Myles points to an Oct. 5 announcement by ATCO company Canadian Utilities Limited that it has entered into a definitive agreement with Suncor Energy Inc., to acquire a portfolio of wind and solar assets and projects located in Alberta and Ontario for a purchase price of $730 million, making it a major force in renewable energy.

"This definitely makes us a player and our commitment into this sector really was over the last couple years," he said. "We have a hydro facility here in Alberta, we're in Mexico, we've got some business in Australia but really this acquisition we announced yesterday is really showing our commitment to Alberta and to Canada."

Darcy Fedorchuk, ATCO's vice-president of North America power and renewables and is overseeing the Barlow and Deerfoot solar projects that will produce 27 and 37 megawatts respectively. He says the land at the Barlow site was prime for this kind of development.

"It's largely an unusable piece of land that, with the benefit of the solar, is creating an opportunity for this land that otherwise wouldn't have been used," he said.

"So it's a real win-win from a land perspective and the project perspective."

Fedorchuk says work started on the Barlow project in June with 100 workers and Deerfoot construction started in August. He says they weren't impacted by supply chain issues.

"We actually got ahead of that early in the process," said Fedorchuk. "We got into the market for our panels and all of our related equipment and materials and in fact, all of our material is here on site now, so we don't have the challenges that others are seeing."

Because of the size of the project, some workers are preparing foundations and the accompanying racking system for the panels while others began installing the panels in the first week of October.

"So these panels are new in terms of the industry that are bifacial so they'll produce energy on both sides," said Fedorchuk. "Sun intensity (is captured) from the top and then a rebound off the ground, that increases the overall production of energy, which adds additional electricity into the provincial grid."

The lifespan of the solar array is anticipated to be 25 to 30 years. ATCO says the Barlow facility will begin generating power in mid December.

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