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Fiera begins building large Calgary rooftop solar array

The project, constructed by SolarBank, will produce enough clean energy to power 270 homes per year

Jag Singh, director of ESG at Fiera Real Estate. (Courtesy Fiera Real Estate Investments Ltd.)
Jag Singh, director of ESG at Fiera Real Estate. (Courtesy Fiera Real Estate Investments Ltd.)

Fiera Real Estate Investments Ltd. has started its first in-house rooftop solar project at a 503,000-square-foot industrial property in the Calgary area, which it believes will be the biggest of its kind in Canada.

The first phase of the solar project on the High Plains warehouse in Balzac, Alta. is projected to produce almost two million megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 270 homes and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,470 tonnes per year.

Electricity from the installation will be sold to the local utility, according to Jag Singh, director of ESG at Fiera Real Estate, helping to decarbonize the power supply of a province that has traditionally had a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

It is a key component of the 2040 net-zero pathway for the Toronto-based asset manager’s $4.3-billion-plus CORE Fund, which accounts for nearly half of its $9.6-billion total assets under management (AUM). Fiera Real Estate Investments is part of Montreal-headquartered Fiera Capital Corp., which holds more than $161.7 billion in AUM and has a 2050 net-zero plan.

“It strongly links to our net-zero plans,” Singh said about the High Plains solar installation, and is “our path forward in decarbonizing our buildings and decarbonizing our funds.”

Decarbonizing Alberta with rooftop solar

The solar project will be done over two phases, with the first stage of construction expected to begin in June and be complete by the end of the year. For Phase 2, Fiera will evaluate spreading the installation across the rest of the roof.

“We have been pragmatic while being and cautious in our pursuit of solar. This is technology that we want to make sure we get right when we do a deployment. By breaking it up into phases we can understand what we did do well and what we need to improve upon before moving to Phase 2,” Singh said.

Phase 1 will cover 30 per cent of the roof – over 113,000 square feet. When Phase 2 is complete, Fiera expects it to be the largest rooftop solar project in Canada and to exceed electricity generation from the current largest solar rooftop project.

Fiera holds two other rooftop solar properties in its portfolio, but those were previously installed and then acquired by Fiera.

High Plains runs on grid electricity and is heated by natural gas equipment. The solar installation will accelerate the decarbonization of the grid and hence the warehouse downstream, Singh explained.

Toronto-based solar project developer SolarBank Corp. (SUUN-Q) will build the project. Fiera searched for active Canadian vendors, based on factors such as confidence in delivery, previous projects, materials sourcing and compliance with third-party environmental standards. SolarBank met the demands.

The multimillion-dollar investment is not just good for the environment, but boosts the valuation of the CORE Fund, Singh said.

“When we think about facilities in the next 10, 15 years, and the expectation around which assets are going to be most valuable, we expect the ones that are green to be the ones that command that premium.”

Other than a solar roof, Fiera is exploring an LED lighting retrofit for the facility, envelope improvements, and heat pumps as a replacement for natural gas equipment.

Shining a path on sustainability

The CORE Fund is on track to meet its 2040 net-zero target, according to Singh, having reduced its greenhouse gas intensity by 17 per cent since 2019.

Fiera Real Estate’s path to net zero includes more solar panels, electrification of assets and using more low-carbon materials.

In 2022, Fiera Real Estate Canada marked a 13 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions intensity since its 2019 baseline, according to its 2023 Sustainable Investing Report, staying relatively unchanged since 2020.

After learning from its efforts at High Plains, Fiera plans to identify other candidate sites for rooftop and ground-mounted solar. Alberta is an ideal jurisdiction because it is one of two provinces – along with Nova Scotia – where the decarbonization impact is the highest per dollar invested, Singh explained.

But that is not to say Alberta has been the easiest place to work, he admitted. The provincial government erected barriers to renewable projects, most notably a moratorium which ended Feb. 29. Politics paved a rocky path to building the solar rooftop.

“We had to monitor and stay very close to SolarBank in understanding policies that the provincial government is announcing and (ask if) any moratoriums that they’re imposing, does that affect our project?” Singh said.

While the moratorium did not affect Fiera, it “added regulatory uncertainty” which made it difficult for Fiera to “navigate the way to the end destination of the project.”

The next ESG-related focuses for Fiera are investing in data collection and improving its sustainability reporting.

Metering is also installed at approximately 70 per cent of Fiera Real Estate’s portfolio by gross floor area to monitor electricity and water consumption. It allows the company to quickly respond to issues such as major water leaks.

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