Solar farm starting to take shape

Ken Johnston

Rainy River First Nation is getting close to harnessing the sun!
Progress on its 25 mega-watt solar farm is about two weeks behind schedule right now due to the wet spring but RRFN Chief Jim Leonard said a second shift of workers will be added Sept. 1 to make up ground.
At this point, thousands of helical piles (or steel screws) have been installed over the roughly 300 acres the farm sits on.
“When complete, there will be about 14,000 screws installed, brought in by about 400-500 trucks,” Chief Leonard noted last week.
The screws will hold the racks of solar panels.
Only a few panels have been installed to date. But when they are all in place, there will be about 110,000 3’x5’ panels collecting sunlight and making electricity.
It’s estimated that in the first year, the solar farm will generate 37 million kilowatt hours of electricity—or enough to power about 3,080 households.
The power will be sent into the Ontario power grid via a feeder line from the farm, located just northeast of Pinewood on the Morley-Dilke Road, to the presently under construction new transformer station at Barwick.
The project is estimated to cost about $130 million to complete.
Back in May, RRFN and Connor Clark & Lunn and Terrma Capital announced a partnership for the financing of it.
Chief Leonard said once the solar farm is up and running, it’s estimated it will generate about $16 million in revenue the first year.
Of that, it is expected between $1.3 and $2.3 million in profits will be realized by RRFN annually.
The province has granted the project a guaranteed feed-in tariff stream of revenue, which amounts to a 20-year price of 45.8 cents per kw/h for power generated.
As with any solar panel, they will lose efficiency at a rate of about 0.7 percent per year.
Some of those profits will be used to offset electricity rates for RRFN residents on and off the reserve. The rest will be put towards further economic development activities by the band.
Chief Leonard said the project began in 2006 when members of his community asked the band council if there was some way it could help offset rapidly-rising electricity rates.
They opted to explore “green” energy as a source of revenue to help do that.
Initially, they looked at wind power and a tall tower was erected to analyze wind
potential. It was determined there was not enough wind on RRFN to be viable.
That is when the band began looking at solar power.
“We hope to have the construction phase complete by Nov. 30,” said Chief Leonard.
“Then it will take about eight weeks to commission.
“If all goes well, we will flick the switch in February [of 2015],” he added.
Chief Leonard is very pleased with the progress and the projected outcome of the solar farm project.
In fact, he said that if the capacity in the grid was there, RRFN already would be looking at doing another similar one.
“But we are hoping that when the [New Gold] mine opens up, they will need about 20 mega-watts of power,” Chief Leonard noted.
“That would free up more capacity and we can move forward on another project.”
The current project consists of two 10 mega-watt and one five mega-watt farm; all adjacent to one another on Morley-Dilke Road.
During the construction, it’s estimated about 250 jobs will be created.
Once it is up and running, Chief Leonard said they will need about 12 people to maintain it.
“Doing things like cleaning the panels and keeping snow off them,” he explained.
He also noted the construction work is being done by unionized labour and that numerous people from his community have been hired on.
Some of those, he hopes, will move onto the next job the union takes on, hence generating long-term employment for people from RRFN.
Chief Leonard said a sea of panels should start going up rapidly over the next few weeks.