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Sturgeon’s biggest solar array opens in Bon Accord

Powers all town buildings and saves money, says mayor

This story originally paraphrased Ivanchikov as saying the array would pay for itself in a year. He actually said the array would be net-positive in terms of revenue after a year, meaning the town would make more than its annual loan payments off of it. The loan for the array would be paid off in nine years.

Bon Accord is now home to the biggest solar array in St. Albert and Sturgeon County.

About 25 people were at the old sewage lagoon site just south of Bon Accord on a windy, cloudy Sept. 15 to officially open the town’s new 648 kW solar array.

The $1.1-million project, about 47 per cent of which was funded by a grant from the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, has been in operation since mid-August and supplies the town with pollution-free electricity.

Dignitaries heard that the array made the municipality one of the few communities in Alberta to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in terms of electricity.

“This provides enough energy to power all the town’s facilities, including the arena,” Mayor David Hutton said, and would save the town money on electricity.

“We don’t have to pay taxes to pay the utility bills.”

Alberta Energy spokesperson Samantha Peck confirmed in an email that the Bon Accord array was the biggest in St. Albert and Sturgeon County. Sturgeon County has 418 kW of solar and wind generation installed at 42 sites, not counting Bon Accord, reported Alberta Electric System Operator spokesperson Mike Deising.

Hutton said he never imagined that he’d see something like this array turn up in Bon Accord, adding he wasn’t aware of any other solar panels in town.

“This came right out of the blue!”

Really quite large

The array itself covered 1.6 hectares of scrubland and consisted of 1,722 solar modules – enough to cover a bit more than eight basketball courts – mounted in six 144-metre by four-metre south-facing rows.

The array uses bi-facial solar panels that will let it capture light that bounces off the snow in the winter, said Mikhail Ivanchikov of Dandelion Renewables, which built the array. The array had produced about 90 megawatt-hours of power since it was turned on in August – about a seventh of what it’s supposed to produce in a year – and was still cranking out about 130 kW on this cloudy day.

Hutton said the town got the idea for this project last fall when a landowner working with Dandelion proposed that the town buy some of their land to create a solar farm on the north side of town. (The owner planned to construct a building with solar panels on it next door.) Administration later proposed that the town build such a farm on the old lagoon lands, which it already owned.

“Bon Accord has a history of doing things on the cheap,” Hutton quipped.

Hutton said the long lifespan and potential savings from the solar array convinced council to give it the green light.

Ivanchikov said the array should save the town about $47,000 a year, become net-positive in terms of revenue (i.e. create more savings than the cost of its annual loan payment) in a year, and prevent about 480 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year – enough to offset the energy use of 55.4 American homes, the U.S. EPA reports.

Ivanchikov said the solar array is fully automated and requires little maintenance beyond grass-cutting, which could be done with a herd of sheep. (Bon Accord town manager Joyce Pierce said in an email that the town plans to hire sheep for that purpose next year.) The panels are mounted at an angle, which would prevent snow build-up and hail damage, came with a 30-year warrantee, and could be recycled.

When asked why other communities might want to invest in renewable power, Hutton said, “For the same reason we did: to save tax dollars, help the environment a bit, and make a better life for citizens.”

Hutton said he hoped this array would draw more attention and investment to Bon Accord.

Ivanchikov said Bon Accord residents would be able to track the performance of the array online later this year.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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