By Anna Smith
A fittingly sunny day marked the opening of the Chappice Lake Solar and Storage project in Cypress County on Sept. 21.
A partnership between Elemental and Cold Lake First Nations, it is the first utility scale solar and storage project in Alberta to use a flow battery, addressing some of the more common concerns in regards to large scale use of solar and other renewables on the grid.
“Basically the concept of solar and battery projects is that solar power solar panels are going to generate all sorts of energy over the course of the day, and then some of that might go back onto the grid, but a lot of it’s gonna go to the batteries so that that energy can then be deployed back onto the grid when there’s demand,” explained Matt Harper, Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Invinity Energy Systems, the minds behind the battery system itself.
The opening event began with a prayer and remarks from several Cold Lake First Nations elders, who were excited to bring knowledge of the project and what it could mean back to their communities, and proud of their part in land stewardship and securing a greener future for all.
“It means a lot to our community that we can have meaningful participation and ownership and projects that are going to bring development and beneficial life to our community,” said Cold Lake First Nations Councillor Deion Blackman. “In these times when we’re trying to transition from being an oil sands development all the way to being net zero. So I really want to thank you guys for being a part of that. We’re extremely proud of being a part of a project like this.”
Blackman adds that they hope to be a partner and leader for other First Nations who look to obtain meaningful ownership of similar projects, and for those who are deep within the energy industry but so far not taken alongside it.
Since the project was announced two years ago, it really has taken a village to complete, acknowledged Jamie Houssian, Principal of Elemental Energy. From local energy companies who will be helping with operations, to Emission Reductions Canada, this project would likely not be possible without the dedication of everyone involved.
“We appreciate the support of the County and our landowners and then Cold Lake First Nations, it’s just been an absolute pleasure working with you guys over the years,” said Houssian. “You guys have put just a ton of faith and trust in what we’re doing here at Elemental. This is not our only project together. This is the first one to reach this milestone. It’s been awesome to work with you guys, and we look forward to doing more stuff together in the future.”
The project had been attracted to Cypress not just for the abundance of sunlight, but for the quality of the workforce available to put up and operate these kinds of projects, said Harper, noting that there is “obviously a tremendous workforce in the local area for building big infrastructure projects of any sort, but particularly in the energy space.”
With the ability to store energy until it’s needed on the grid, such as at night or during extended periods of cloud cover, the project hopes to utilize power that would otherwise be lost.
“For example, on a cold winter morning when people are waking up and turning on the heater in their house, and putting on the kettle and all that kind of stuff, that’s when you get a big spike of demand on the grid and that’s when the batteries will come into play,” said Harper.
He was proud to point out during a site tour of the battery building that his company’s flow batteries were unique from the more standard lithium-ion battery in that they would remain capable of holding the same charge through a much higher number of charge cycles, and were designed to remain in use throughout the entire lifespan of the 14 MW project.
To date, Elemental has supported significant jobs and economic growth both in the area and potentially to the Cold Lake First Nation. And this is a great example of written reconciliation through economic development in partnership, said Susan Carlisle, representing Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA).
“When I was driving down to Brooks this morning, I pulled over to walk my dog and I found this fortune cookie in my car that was pointed towards the project, and the fortune cookie said, in English, ‘financial opportunity lies ahead’,” said Carlisle.