The Canadian Province of Alberta has signed a 20-year Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Conklin Metis Tribal Nation to deliver 94 MW of subsidy-free solar power to the province. The purchase is historic in every way:

  • The Metis will provide bi-facial solar panels, producing power from both sides of the panel, gaining a 20% or more increase in power generated per panel. In this case, even Alberta’s snow becomes an asset because of the increase in reflected light (the albedo effect).
  • The provincial government estimates that this contract will save $3.9 million (Ca) in energy costs and will provide 55% of their energy requirements.
  • This solar power implementation will replace expiring WIND POWER contracts with solar energy billed at 4.8 cents per kilowatt hour, making this the most cost-effective solar power purchase in the history of the Canadian government.

Bi-facial solar panels are available in a variety of designs and configurations. Some are dual-glass constructions while others use transparent backsheets and are produced with or without frames. In many cases, installation is easier with framed versions as the racking systems are made to readily accept them and they come with their own mounting clamps. The key ingredient is the height of the installation to gain the most reflected light while remaining in optimal orientation toward the sun. Increased power production can be achieved with installations on roofs painted white (like Alberta’s snow) or even over light colored stones. There are double-glasses solar panels but only modules with contacts on both the front and backsides of the cells are truly bi-facial units.

Calgary Downtown Night with Snow in Alberta Canada
Photo: karklis/Flickr

The Alberta contract provides for three solar facilities at Jenner, Tilley, and Hays and will run from 2021 through 2041. In all, this is a $100 million capital investment in large scale solar power (approximately 146,431 MWh annually) and will create about 270 jobs during construction. Two of the three sites are on Conklin Metis land and the tribe will have a 50% equity ownership of the project.

The project is particularly noteworthy since Conklin is located of the Athabasca Oil Sands region of Alberta. Tribal resistance to fossil fuel is growing on both sides of the border between Canada and the United States as the indigenous nations of the region unite to hold the “Thin Green Line.”

Resistance to exploitation by fossil fuel giants was once a purely reactive thing as one tribe after another sought to stop polluting projects from destroying their land, water and sacred sites. Those days are ending as tribal councils band together to provide energy self-sufficiency and end the destruction. In part, it’s all an accident of geology. Southwestern Canada and the Northwestern U.S. are rich in oil, coal and natural gas resources and the corporations want to exploit those resources (mining, drill and fracking) to pipe and ship it all to Asian markets. The region is also among the “greenest” places in North America and much of it is tribal land. Opposition to the drilling and fracking and particularly pipelines is growing throughout the region. Among the biggest issues is the pollution of ground water, an increasingly scarce commodity. The truth is, water is the strategic resource of the 21st Century – no oil. The Tribes see it, if big Oil doesn’t. comment

* Cover photo: karklis/Flickr

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