Summerside's $69M solar farm taking shape

·4 min read
About 65 per cent of the pilings have been installed.   (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
About 65 per cent of the pilings have been installed. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

A new $69 million dollar solar farm is taking shape in Summerside, covering 30 hectares, and, by the end of this year, featuring more than 65,000 solar panels. 
The project is called Sunbank, and the city is banking on it moving them one step closer to energy self-sufficiency.

"Around 21-megawatts of total energy when it's all said and done, and then we'll be balancing that off with around five tractor trailers of batteries," said Summerside's Director of Economic Development Mike Thususka.

"So once the energy is generated, we're able to store it, and then use it in the grid."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Thususka said the 21-megawatts equates to 25 per cent of all the electricity needed in the city.

He called it 'the field of green'.

"This project will take us from currently 42 per cent of our own generation to over 65 per cent. Our ultimate goal is to get to 100, but this project gets us that next substantial step forward in terms of generating our own energy," Thususka said.

"It's always been our ambition to get as much renewable energy as we can, as much green technology as we can, as much innovation as we can."

Battery storage key

Thususka said the battery storage, which covers about an acre, is a game changer for renewable energy. 

"That's the key to renewables, in our opinion, if you don't have storage, you can't manage and control it," Thususka said.

"Renewables are great. But as we found out with our wind farm, wind blows when you don't need it. And so therefore it minimizes the impact that you can have with renewables."

Thususka said the Sunbank project is being paid for with funding from all three levels of government, as well as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Samsung.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

He said it took four years from the initial conception of the project, to getting it fully funded, and now well into construction.

Renewable firsts

The city's director of municipal services said the solar farm builds on the success of the city's wind farm, and the development of a smart grid that allowed them to store that energy for when the wind was not blowing.

"One of the first municipal-built wind farms in Canada, one of the first, at Credit Union Place, smart storage systems in Canada," said Greg Gaudet.

"Again here, in Sunbank, is a utility-scale storage and solar system, on the utility grids to help it be more secure, reliable and economical."

Nicole Williams/CBC
Nicole Williams/CBC

Gaudet said because the city owns and operates the utility, it is easier to be innovative.

He said another goal of the Sunbank project is growing the clean tech sector on P.E.I.

A lot of our companies are now positioning themselves, that they're in one of the greenest facilities in Canada. - Mike Thususka

"It's about 210 full-time equivalent jobs being created by the project itself. We have 32 employees on site now, and that'll ebb and flow throughout the whole project," Gaudet said.

"You want to grow the industry, in it's knowledge of how these projects go together so they can take that knowledge and export it if they choose, or continue to build on P.E.I."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Net zero target

The project was initially supposed to be operational by May 2022, but has been delayed because of the pandemic.

Gaudet said the pilings are about 65 per cent complete, and the goal is to start installing solar panels by July.

"It's really the first start where we actually start producing electricity," Gaudet said.

"We're not using it anywhere yet, but as soon as you put the first solar panel up, you're harnessing the power of the sun. And then the next step is getting that into the electrical grid."

Gaudet said the Sunbank solar farm is expected to be operational by early December 2022.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Both Gaudet and Thususka said the greening of Summerside is being noticed.

"The other thing I'm noticing as part of my job in economic development is a lot of our companies are now positioning themselves, that they're in one of the greenest facilities in Canada," Thususka said.

"Case in point, our hospitals, our manufacturing industries, they're all using this green power. And that's quite a statement to be made about Summerside."

Shane Hennssey/CBC
Shane Hennssey/CBC

Thususka said the ultimate goal is for Summerside to be net zero.

"Our ultimate goal is just to get 100 per cent renewable energy generation, to get business and residents off oil if we can, and drive as much innovation into our community as we can," Thususka said.

"We're trying to align ourselves, obviously, with provincial and federal targets, I'll say. But I think we can get there faster. It just just a matter of us putting our minds to it." 

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