New solar energy project set to be constructed in RM of Weyburn this year

The Pesakastew Solar Project is ready for construction this spring in the RM of Weyburn (on the site shown above), with plans and permits falling into place, members of the Weyburn Rotary Club heard in a presentation Thursday.

The project has three main partners, including Natural Forces, a private independent power producer, and two First Nations partners: George Gordon Developments Ltd., owned by George Gordon First Nation, and Red Dog Holdings Ltd., owned by the Star Blanket First Nation.

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The development and construction of the solar project is being done by Natural Forces, explained Amy Pellerin, the senior development manager, along with information provided by Andrea Bradshaw, the construction manager for the project.

Southern Saskatchewan has some of the highest exposure to sunlight in all of Canada, noted Pellerin, making this location ideal for a solar energy project. “This is why we are excited to have our first utility-level solar project in southern Saskatchewan,” she said.

“We have a contract to produce 10 megawatts AC. We can produce up to 14 MW DC, but we’re limited to 10 MW,” said Pellerin, adding later that anything produced over and above 10 megawatts is spilled electricity that won’t be used. The project will have a line to the SaskPower substation, where the power will go directly onto the power grid, and was one of the reasons this site was selected as no additional infrastructure was needed to enable this project to supply the power.

This project will see power produced from 32,000 bifacial solar panels installed in a 90-acre area, bounded by a fenced-in area of 107 acres located southwest of Weyburn on a quarter across the road from a SaskPower substation. This project will be just west of the Weyburn Industrial Transload location.

The panels will be mounted onto 1,280 trackers, which will allow the panels to move east to west following the sun during the day to get the maximum amount of sunlight each day.

The plan is for construction to begin in early to mid-May, once the frost is out of the ground, with everything to be completed by the end of October, and interconnection will likely occur in mid to late December with the substation.

The panels will also have 4,800 helical piles rather than concrete piles, as frost heave has been known to cause disruption in solar projects built elsewhere in Canada.

Pellerin explained that bifacial panels means that solar energy can be captured from the top or bottom of the panel, and should increase the efficiency of the panel to collect solar energy.

Planning for this project has been underway for a couple of years already, with an open house held in March of 2019 at the Captain’s Hall. A series of studies have been completed, including environmental studies on birds and vegetation, and a development permit has been obtained from the RM of Weyburn, with the building permit to be obtained soon for work to begin this spring.

“We are really in it for the long term,” said Pellerin. “It makes a difference in how you approach a project. We tend to use components of a higher quality.”

There are three phases to this development, with the environmental studies, power purchase agreement and buying or leasing a land site all in the first phase. In this instance, the land is being leased from the land-owner, and the owner will be able to continue farming the land around the solar energy site.

The project is under the First Nation Power Authority (FNPA), which selected this as one of two projects from a list of projects submitted from around the province. The FNPA negotiated the power supply agreement with SaskPower for a 20-year period.

The second phase will be the construction of the project, with the ordering of equipment already begun so it will be here when the time comes to build it. The bifacial solar panels are a high-quality product that is coming from Vietnam, the trackers are being sourced from a company in New Mexico, and the inverters are coming from a supplier in Germany.

The third phase will be the operation and maintenance of the solar power project.

One of the studies carried out was a “glint and glare” study, as comments at the open house brought up concerns about whether people driving by would get the sun glaring in their eyes from the panels.

Pellerin noted a consulting firm was hired to do a study of this possibility, and found that with the location of the solar project there shouldn’t be any impact on passing motorists.

The site will be reseeded to vegetation with the plan to have a herd of sheep on the site through the summer to graze and keep the grass down.

Asked if extreme cold or extreme winds will have an effect on the operation of the project, Bradshaw noted the panels are rated to work on a 40-40 basis, as in from 40 degrees above to -40. Also, with the trackers in place, they can sense when snow accumulates on the panels and will move to an upright position to remove it, or when there is a high wind, they will lay the panels flat so the wind flows over it.

On a question of efficiency, Bradshaw noted the panels are warrantied to have 97-per-cent efficiency when they are installed, and should be at 85-per-cent efficiency by year 30.

All of the data from all of the studies are available for anyone to view on the project’s website, at pesakastewsolarproject.ca.