Earlier this week the Tribune’s reporter Monica Lamb-Yorski (MLY) reached out to Sunfield Energy Inc. for an interview regarding its proposed feasibility study for a solar project north of Williams Lake.
The response arrived from a spokesperson for the company, Ron Percival, (RP) after press time Thursday evening.
Here is his e-mailed response.
MLY: Does your Kelowna-based company have any other existing solar projects up and running?
RP: At the present time B.C. only has a few very small ground mount solar projects totalling slightly more than 2 Megawatts of capacity — including one in Kimberley and the new Tsilhqot’in solar project west of Williams Lake.
This is very disappointing, as select areas of the B.C. Southern Interior share Canada’s highest commercial solar irradiance zone with southern Alberta.
In Alberta approximately 80 proposed solar projects have applied for interconnection to the Alberta electrical grid, and some 10 large projects with announced capacities of 700 MW are reported to be under construction. So… the score between the provinces with Canada’s top solar irradiance on select sites is about 700 to 2.
The latest 2019 published unsubsidized price for Alberta solar power delivered to the Alberta grid on a long term contract is 4.8 Cents a kilowatt hour.
B.C .is rapidly falling behind in adopting the new solar technology and developing our “best in Canada” solar resource. This despite the fact that new BC Chamber of Commerce polling shows 88 per cent want to see more investment in B.C. solar development — a greater preference for solar than any other B.C. power generation option.
Solar is now the fastest growing energy source worldwide, and is reported to be the greatest source of new jobs in the US. Some $10 Billion is expected to be invested in solar in the US this year alone, including northern and northeastern states with similar solar irradiance values to some select sites in B.C.
Two drivers of the rise of solar are recent advances in technology — and steep declines in cost. For example, Sunfield is studying the use of tracker mounts for solar panels which allow the panel faces to follow the path of the sun. Also, we are modelling the use of bifacial solar panels. Bifacial panels are active on both faces, capturing irradiance directly from the sun, while the backside captures irradiance reflected from the ground. Despite these advancements, the cost of utility-scale solar has fallen about 90% over the past 10 years. BC solar power at utility-scale on select sites is now the lowest cost generation option available to the provincial system — cheaper than small wind, biomass, geothermal, gas, as well as small and large hydro.
MLY: Why are you choosing the McLeese Lake area?
RP: Sunfield is proposing to undertake a multi-year feasibility study to determine if a utility-scale solar project at the site west of the McLeese Lake area may be potentially viable from a number of perspectives. There are many matters to consider, including technical, engineering, economic, environmental and social issues. In the end, the objective is always to determine if the potential solar project can support one of BC’s “lowest cost” clean energy generation options with maximum benefits and minimum impacts.
From our review of almost 20 years of satellite data, the Plateau site appears to be exposed to the same solar irradiance as many areas where solar is now developing. For example, south central Alberta and many countries in Europe. The site is also adjacent to existing transmission lines and substations for potential low cost interconnection. The high cost of constructing new transmission lines can make an otherwise good solar project not economic. The study area is also on an elevated plateau, making any project if built in future not visible from any occupied property.
Regardless, solar is well known for its wide social acceptance, and polling has shown solar is now preferred over any generation option in B.C., Canada and North America generally. The reasons are for this acceptance are well understood. Solar has no GHG emissions, no sound, and a low visual profile. It is solid state generation, like a flat screen tv. It has no spinning generators or noisy machinery. Unlike days when the wind doesn’t blow or months when the river is low, the sun appears every day of the year to create predictable electricity.
The Plateau site near McLeese Lake is ideally located for education and training in solar technology. The site is centrally situated off highway 97 and convenient to many interior cities, towns and First Nations communities. Public educational and technical institutions can benefit by collaborating solar jobs training and research programs at the site.
It’s an interesting fact that the photon particles that trigger the electron release in solar panels travel to McLeese Lake from the sun in just eight minutes. Another interesting fact is that there is about 1.5 hours of more solar generation daylight at McLeese Lake on the longest day of the year — June 21 — than in Los Angeles on the same day. Other interesting characteristics of solar power are that solar panels do better in cold temperatures. And further, that bifacial solar panels perform best in winter regions with snow covered ground.
We will be studying solar and energy storage at the site. This because solar when combined with battery storage can extend the day. Solar powered batteries deliver stored solar energy to the system during dark hours after the sun goes down. Battery units, like the solar project, are modular and can be adjusted to serve any required capacity and time of delivery
Lowest cost renewable solar power at utility scale is an exclusive opportunity for the BC southern interior – where our province’s best solar resource is located. The NE of the province has wind and large hydro generation advantages. The coast region has the benefit of small hydro generation. In the southern interior, we have the province’s lowest cost solar resources to help power the future and reduce the impacts of climate change.
MLY: How would you best describe the project in laymen’s terms?
RP: The feasibility study will be carried out within the investigative area to determine a number of things required prior to any decision to proceed — or not — with a project at the site.
As part of the upcoming feasibility study, Sunfield will install ground mounted solar monitoring stations within the study area boundaries. The solar monitoring stations are less than 3 meters in height, and are supported by a steel post mounted in the ground. Installing the monitors will be the only land disturbance. The solar monitors are self powered, and resemble the small climate and highway cam stations alongside our provincial highways. The stations will record the actual solar irradiance coming from the sun by taking observations every minute. This observation data will be correlated with long term satellite observation to calculate the true solar irradiance value of the site. Other sensors may record temperature, wind speed, snow cover, humidity and other factors required to accurately understand the site climate in relation to other nearby long term climate data sets. This data is required to inform technical and financial models of any proposed project at the specific site location.
MLY: Can you please describe this initial investigative stage in laymen terms?
RP: In addition to monitoring solar irradiance at the site, during the investigative stage we will also undertake a number of non-disturbance site surveys at a high level to determine what are the environmental, engineering, social, archeological, traditional use, stakeholder and community issues related to the site. Some studies will involve technicians walking the site, and others will be desktop studies and consultations with First Nations, stakeholders, the local community, regional government and others who may have an interest in the land or the project. There are many land use constraints that may impact any future project development. We will also model the energy, undertake economic studies, market studies and transmission interconnection studies. All of these initiatives take time and investment prior to any decision to proceed — or to abandon the project.
If proceeding, Sunfield will propose a specific solar project of a named capacity in megawatts, and at a specific location within the boundaries of the study area. The company will then undertake formal environmental and other regulatory and permitting applications and studies for the defined project, which would occupy a described and reduced portion of the project study area.
If, however, the project is deemed to be not technically or economically viable, the company will remove the solar monitoring stations. The study area will be left undisturbed and as we found it.
MLY: Who will be at the open house on Jan. 15, 2020?
RP: My understanding is any members of the community who may be interested in learning more about solar energy or our proposed feasibility study are welcome.