A solar project that would be Canada’s biggest received provincial approval this week from regulators in Alberta, gliding through a key step on the way to its completion.

So far Canada hasn’t seen the whoppingly large projects that have cropped up south of its border. The newly approved 600-megawatt (DC) Travers plant, developed by Alberta-based wind and solar developer Greengate Power Corporation, will beat out any previous solar construction in the country by leaps and bounds, the developer said.

Its size will also put Canada within reach of other eye-popping solar projects around the world, like the 754-megawatt Villanueva project in Mexico or the 579-megawatt Solar Star project in California. 

Greengate expects to begin construction on the C$500 million ($376 million) project next year and complete it in 2021.

The largest farms already in operation in Canada are 100 megawatts or less in capacity. According to data from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, most projects in Canada range between 5 and 25 megawatts. Another Alberta project under development by Ontario-based RealPart Canada would be 150 megawatts. 

Developers see the province as a region ripe for growth, despite the oil and gas that’s long been integral to its economy.

Though Alberta may have been “slower to adopt new forms of energy” because of its connection to fossil fuels, Greengate CEO Dan Balaban said that’s changing.

“Given the fact that renewables make sense on a subsidy-free market basis, I think Alberta is primed for some pretty massive renewables growth over the next decade,” Balaban told Greentech Media. 

Wind has already boomed in the region, and Alberta ranks third among Canadian provinces for installed wind capacity, according to government data. The province is also home to Canada’s second-largest wind farm, at 299 megawatts, and a national wind price record set in 2017. Comparatively, the solar industry is still getting off the ground. 

“We’ve been developing renewable energy in Alberta for more than 12 years. Wind, over the last decade, has been more cost-competitive than solar,” said Balaban. “But solar has reached the tipping point where I believe [it] is the most cost-competitive renewable in Alberta.”

Uncertainty in Canadian market

Greengate will sell the electricity the project produces on a merchant basis into Alberta’s deregulated market, the only one of its kind in Canada. Balaban expects healthy prices because solar plants generate when the province needs power most and prices are highest. 

The approval comes on the heels of an uncertain period in Canada's renewables market. Last year, Ontario’s new government canceled more than 750 early-stage renewables contracts, sending a ripple of anxiety through the country’s largest market. A new conservative government recently swept into Alberta as well, canceling a provincial-level renewables auction and getting rid of Alberta’s target of 30 percent renewables by 2030. 

But Balaban said the province should be able to maintain renewables growth within the “market-driven” conditions the new government has boosted because renewables can compete without subsidies. Provinces in Canada are also required to price carbon, which provides more certainty to the industry. 

“The mega-projects that make economic sense elsewhere in North America and ... around the globe can also work right here in Alberta,” said Balaban. “Canada and Alberta are politically stable places to invest, and we think this is a very attractive project in a very attractive part of the world.”