The first of its kind in Canada – a solar thermal power plant in Medicine Hat that cost $10 million – is coming to an end after just five years.
For those who saw this investment as more than a research project, and that probably means most people, there is disappointment that we are not reaping the rewards of one megawatt of electricity without emitting any carbon.
In addition to the city’s $3 million investment there were ongoing expenses.
“The projected annual operational and maintenance costs for the installed solar thermal energy system are anticipated to be $40,000 per year,” reads a story at helioscsp.com from nearly 10 years ago.
Perhaps the city was finding it increasingly difficult to justify this expense.
The initial investment provincially, federally and municipally actually cost $2 million per year based on the life of the project.
When the solar thermal plant opened, Guillermo Ordorica-Garcia, with the Alberta Research Council, is quoted as saying the benefit to the environment was sizable. “There are no fossil fuels being burned at any stage of the process.”
In 2010 the former MLA for Medicine Hat Rob Renner, who was minister of Alberta Environment at the time, announced that $3 million of provincial taxpayers money was being granted for the project. Renner called it another step towards reducing greenhouse gases in Alberta.
The City of Medicine Hat, in its announcement about decommissioning the plant, noted the project had met all the criteria for information gathering and this has been submitted to Alberta Innovates.
It could be argued that this research, this investment, played a part in luring other solar farms to our region recently.
In 2007 the city partnered with Natural Resources Canada to commission a study to determine the “technical feasibility” of this plan. The solar-to-electricity efficiency was projected to be 11 per cent.
Even before the solar plant there was significantly more money invested in the “wind farm.” In 2011 the News reported on the “four wind turbines” (we ended up with three) for a projected eight megawatt project on the east side of Box Springs Road. The investment of $25 million would produce enough power to service 3,000 homes.
At the time Ted Clugston, who was chair of the city’s energy committee at the time, called it a long-term investment of 25-years.
Norm Boucher, mayor at the time, said it was a tough question.
“Do we have the vision to buy it now with the hope of making money down the road to pay for it?” said Boucher.
We have heard very little about how those three windmills are performing. Were they a good investment or not?
Perhaps they will be next on the list to be decommissioned because windmills do not last indefinitely and there will be maintenance costs.
While we are celebrating the current investments being made in green technology we need to be aware that many of this projects have the investment of taxpayers’ money. They may also have nothing to do with saving money but is an investment in research.
We also need to be aware that this technology is moving at a fast pace. Technology today could be obsolete in five-years and no longer economically viable.
That does not mean that all investments in this area are wrong but we need to see them for what they are.
-Medicine Hat News
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