Renewable Energy has entered the solar power industry in a big
way—with the 27 MW Stardale project in the Canadian province
of Ontario—and at the same time, removed a lot of the risk.
Some companies start small—notInnergex Renewable Energy. The
company's first venture into the solar power business was the 27 MW
Stardale solar farm in the Canadian province of Ontario. While it was
under construction, it was the fourth largest solar project in North
America and the 14th largest worldwide.
Although Stardale is an enormous project, Innergex—already
possessing a large hydro and wind power portfolio—definitely
looked before it leaped.
"When the deal was becoming more of a reality, we made sure that we
understood every aspect of it. We turned every rock to understand the
risks very well," says Jean Trudel, Innergex's chief investment officer
and senior vice president-Communications.
"We're a very conservative bunch. We always take a very careful
approach to things, and we visited other solar power sites,
manufacturers of solar panels, contractors, and owners. We studied the
solar resource to predict the annual output of the panels and the kind
of effects snow and other Canada-specific elements would have. We
wanted to make sure that the risks were well-understood and
well-mitigated in order to move forward."
The Stardale project began as a project by Enfinity NV. Enfinity had
power purchase agreements with the government of Ontario, but no
project was underway. "At the time, they wanted to sell only one
piece—one 10 megawatt out of the 27," says Trudel. "We
started to discuss the 10 megawatt purchase with Enfinity, and I think
they liked our approach, and in 2011 decided to offer us the full
Building one of North America's largest solar farms was a significant
step forward for Innergex. In April 2011, the company sealed the deal
with Enfinity and kept them on as the EPC contractor.
Enfinity's presence also helped reduce Innergex's risk. "We structured
a deal whereby if the project didn't meet or exceed certain milestones,
we would adjust the price downward or upward depending on if the
project assumptions materialized or not," says Trudel. "Since it was
our first solar project, we were careful. Keeping Enfinity in the loop
during the construction, and then the operation, made it possible."
When Innergex stepped in, permitting was complete and construction was
ready to begin. Enfinity contracted Sullivan and Sons to do the
construction. The company is well known in Ontario and had completed
other solar projects in the area.
The panels hadn't been purchased yet, but discussions were well
underway. "We visited a few manufacturers, and we selected SolarWorld
out of Oregon," says Trudel. "We felt they had the highest quality
panels. Not only do they grow their crystals in Oregon at the
manufacturing facility, they also assemble their own panels in a great
manufacturing environment. It's a top quality facility, and we were
Innergex was so impressed they purchased 144,060 SolarWorld 230-watt
panels with a tilted racking system. The 33+ MW of capacity required 54
Schneider Electric Xantrex 500-kilowatt inverters, which limited the
output to 27 megawatts, says Trudel.
"We did look at different inverters, but Enfinity had done quite a bit
of work on that front, and we were at ease with the choice. Xantrex,
manufactured by Schneider Electric, is one of the highest quality
inverters; there was no question about it."
The company feels the two parcels of land that host the solar power
facility are ideal. They are close to interconnection just an hour from
Montreal, the location of Innergex's home office. The location has good
sun exposure, and the area doesn't experience smog, as would be the
case if the project were near Toronto (Ontario's capital), Canada's
"The site is also located on land where there's no real agricultural
use, or not important agricultural use, so that was also very
important. You don't want to displace good high-quality farm land to
build solar assets," says Trudel.
What proved to be a challenge during construction were the 12,000
foundations, which had to be dug and filled with concrete.
Geotechnical analysis of the land had been done, but it was impossible
to analyze all 12,000 spots. "When it was time to dig the foundations,
we realized that the quality of the land was different from one area to
another, and we also had to work with the water table management,"
"We had some luck because the winter was not harsh at all, and the
contractor could work longer through December and also earlier when the
spring came. We caught up, pretty much, on all the delays, and
eventually we put the project in service on May 16," adds Trudel.
At the peak of installation, there were around 200 construction people
on site. The delays in pouring foundations required the contractor to
add extra shifts and work six-day weeks; however, Innergex wasn't hurt
financially by the delays. Their early focus on risk management paid
off. Their contract agreement with their EPC contractor made them whole
for any delay and lost revenue. There was a bright side to the delays
in installing the racking system. It helped with the coordination of
moving panels from Oregon to Canada. The panels were shipped by train
to Ontario and stored in a warehouse.
visited SolarWorld's facilities in Oregon and were impressed with the
manufacturing and assembly process. They used 144,060 SolarWorld
230-watt panels with a tilted racking system on the Stardale project in
"Because we were not ready to receive them on-site and install them,
they had to be stored. When the racking systems were being installed,
we could just bring the panels to the site and install them right
away," says Trudel. "It was an interesting logistics effort."
Most solar farms are built in sunny locations, so there was some
concern about putting one in snowy Ontario. Much study was done ahead
of time to ensure the snow wouldn't hinder energy production.
As the panels were installed over the winter, Innergex got to see
firsthand that the results of their studies by various third parties
were correct. Even with 8 to 9 centimeters of snow, the sun's rays can
make their way through. However, when the panels start operating, it
doesn't take much for them to warm up.
With the panels at approximately a 25-degree tilt and a
meter-and-a-half off the ground, average snowfall melts and falls to
the ground with minor impact to the panels' performance.
"The heat differential between the outside air and the panels is quite
enough to melt any snow sitting on the panels. It only takes a few
hours of morning daylight to melt the accumulated snow," says Trudel.
"The main risk is not really the snow that you would get on a normal
day, but a really big snow storm at night. A strong accumulation of
snow at night would take longer to fall off the panel."
Another weather issue that could be problematic is an ice storm, which
could effect production more than snow. Luckily, ice storms are pretty
rare in this area of Ontario.
What Innergex is discovering is that even without being plugged in, the
black glass attracts enough heat to melt the snow. "We're quite
comfortable with our assumption that the snow will not be a major
factor," says Trudel.
The project cost approximately $140 million, and Innergex structured
the financing so that the equity invested will attract an interesting
The company is also moving ahead with other solar projects in Ontario.
"It's the only province that offers these types (Feed-In Tariff) of
contracts right now. In Ontario, we currently have about 60 megawatts
of potential projects close to interconnection," says Trudel. "We are
also always interested if anyone is selling an early-stage project or
operating project. Right now Stardale represents about eight percent of
our revenues, and we'd like to grow that segment further down the
Most solar farms are built in
sunny locations, so there was some concern about putting one in
Ontario, which receives a good amount of snow in the winter. But with
the panels at approximately a 25-degree tilt and a meter-and-a-half off
the ground, average snowfall melts and falls to the ground with minor
impact to the panels' performance.
The company currently has approximately 2,800 megawatts of prospective
projects—projects that don't yet have power purchase
agreements, but RFPs for new energy will in all likelihood be issued by
the provinces of either B.C., Quebec, or Ontario.
"We're quite active in all three segments—hydro, wind, and
solar—to increase the size of the company," says Trudel.
"We've recently acquired two hydroelectric facilities in B.C. We also
acquired a wind farm that's being developed in B.C. as well as another
hydroelectric facility in Quebec. We also have a Letter of Intent with
a private company to buy six other hydroelectric facilities, so it's a
very, very busy time for Innergex right now."
With the Stardale project complete, Innergex is proud of completing it
under budget, even with the small delays. In addition, the solar farm
was producing in July at 117 percent of the anticipated output.
"The overall experience has been very positive. We've entered this new
segment, we've increased our diversification from just purely hydro and
wind, and improved our diversification geographically by adding another
asset in Ontario," says Trudel.
In terms of power generation, Trudel says, they used to say that they
were only happy when it rained, which had a positive impact on their
hydro power. "Then eventually it was when it was windy—and
now we're happy when it's sunny too. We're covered on all fronts."