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SolarBank starts construction on largest owned project to date

Company's Geddes, New York site will have capacity of 3.7 megawatts

One of SolarBank's solar projects. (Courtesy SolarBank Corp.)
One of SolarBank's outdoor solar projects. (Courtesy SolarBank Corp.)

Toronto-based SolarBank Corp. has made significant progress on two in-development projects – a nearly 17-megawatt site in Alberta and a 3.7-megawatt venture in New York State.

The company executed a lease agreement on a 74.93-acre site in Sturgeon County, Alta., with the intent to develop a ground-mount solar power project with a capacity of 16.817 megawatts of direct current. The project marks SolarBank’s (SUNN-CN) first organic development in the province.

SolarBank also commenced construction on its 3.7-megawatt Geddes, N.Y. solar project at a repurposed landfill. It is the largest solar project to be owned and operated by the company to date.

"At this moment, Geddes will be the largest that we've ever owned. But by the time we do the Alberta one, let's say 2025, we will probably be owning even bigger ones," Richard Lu, SolarBank's CEO, told SustainableBiz.

"For example, we are in discussion with Germany, and so on (and) so forth, talking about 80 megawatt solar farms  to be constructed in 2024. So (it's) just really in a moment of time."

SolarBank sells electricity from solar projects to utilities, commercial, industrial, municipal and residential off-takers. The company has a potential development pipeline of one gigawatt and has developed renewable projects with a combined capacity of over 70 megawatts.

SolarBank in Alberta

SolarBank has started environmental studies for the future permitting process of the Sturgeon County, Alta. site. The intention upon completion of the project is that it will sell electricity directly to the grid. As Alberta is an open market, that could include Fortune 500 companies via corporate power purchase agreements, municipalities and utilities.

According to Lu, there were three major reasons for the company’s choice of Alberta. The first is that the province’s grid is among the most in need of decarbonization across Canada.

“No. 2 is that we're in the solar business. In renewable generation, we're always looking at places where they have better energy production and Alberta actually has a higher solar production potential, because their sunlight is stronger compared to Ontario, compared to Quebec and other places,” he explained.

“Thirdly is really because of the market. Most of the market is (a) regulated market . . . but Alberta's market is a decentralized market that is actually more conducive to private investment.”

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has announced a pause on approvals of new renewable electricity generation projects over one megawatt until Feb. 29, 2024, and that it will review policies and procedures for the development of renewable electricity generation. This pause will impact the company’s receipt of interconnection approval for the project from the AUC until it is over.

However, SolarBank will continue with its environmental studies and other studies for permits unrelated to the AUC. The current plan is to have the site fully permitted by the end of 2024 and constructed in 2025.

“The Alberta government is a proponent for lower carbon electricity generation and from that perspective, you keep the market going forward. So this pause does slow down the progress of decarbonization,” Lu said.

“It does send a signal to people who may be more opportunistic than SolarBank, that they might be looking elsewhere. That’s something that’s bound to happen. But fortunately, SolarBank is a long-term investor, and we are actually looking at the necessity of such a review, but hopeful to the long-term view of the decarbonization in the market.”

SolarBank’s Geddes project

SolarBank anticipates the Geddes project will be complete in Q1 2024, at which point Lu estimates it could provide over 500 households with 100 per cent renewable energy. Current activities include civil work and the commencement of the racking and module installation.

The land came from SolarBank’s relationship with Honeywell International Inc. (HON-Q). Earlier in September, Honeywell purchased three solar projects under development from SolarBank in upstate New York, totalling 21 megawatts in direct current, for approximately US$41 million.

The landfill turned solar project was born out of that deal with Honeywell, in which Lu said SolarBank worked out a “long-term side control arrangement” with the conglomerate.

“No. 1, it is the first community solar project that we are actually the investor and we will provide a sponsor equity, we will be providing tax equity because we are a profitable company in the States,” Lu said. “We already secured the long-term debt. So, the project is fully financed there."

“Secondly, in that area there's a lot of low- and medium-income communities that truly need assistance from an ESG perspective.”

Separate from its solar projects, SolarBank recently entered into engineering, procurement and construction agreements valued at $36 million for three Ontario battery energy storage system projects. The projects are owned by Solar Flow-Through Funds, two First Nations communities and an unidentified third-party developer in Ontario.

Each has 18.96 megawatt-hours of storage and is intended for completion by summer 2025.

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