Solar power in
Canada's economic heartland
by Ontario’s feed-in-tariff, SunEdison and SkyPower Ltd.
recently brought into service two ground-mount solar parks, SunE Sky
Norfolk I and SunE Sky Norfolk II, that are now generating 18.3 MW in
Canada’s economic heartland.
The province of Ontario is home to Toronto, Canada’s largest
city and the country’s center of commerce. But it’s
also quickly becoming the center of solar development for the country,
thanks in part to the Green Energy Act and its predecessor, the
Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP).
Norfolk I and II solar power sites have a sandy soil profile.
Construction crews had to make sure the pilings were deep, so
there would not be any frost heaving in the winter.
Green Energy Act, passed in 2009, is designed to wean the province from
coal-fired energy production by 2014. The legislation also spells out a
series of steps designed to streamline approval for renewable energy
projects, establish standardized pricing through a feed-in tariff
program, attract investors, and create local business and employment
SunEdison Canada, a subsidiary of MEMC Electronic Materials, and
SkyPower Ltd. have been some of the leaders in this evolution with
their joint venture projects—the 9.1 megawatt First Light I
Solar Park and more recently, the 18.3 MW SunE Sky Norfolk I and II
Gray, SunEdison vice president of Canadian operations, praised the
provincial leaders for their forward thinking in creating the RESOP and
the subsequent Green Energy Act.
think it was a progressive view to get all of the coal generation
offline," he says. "Renewable energy will boom, and it will also
position Ontario as a center of excellence.
of the other Canadian provinces are starting to consider solar
programs, and they’re at various stages," he added.
one of the first does have its own unique set of challenges, Gray says.
were doing so many of the first things in the province, and there was a
fair learning curve," he says. "We spent some extra time with the
utilities getting them more comfortable with the technology."
the time First Light I, a 90-acre project near Stone Mills, went online
in September 2009, it was the province’s first utility-scale
solar generation facility. It also was the largest ground-mount PV
system in Canada and the third largest in North America.
addition, it was named the 2009 Solar Project of the Year for Ground
Mount by the Canadian Solar Industry Association (CanSIA).
and SkyPower formed the joint venture SunE Sky in 2007 and began
exploring possible projects. From the scoping sessions, came First
Light I, Norfolk I and II, and a handful of others. As part of the
arrangement, the two firms build, finance, and maintain the projects.
were able to secure a 20-year power purchase agreement from the Ontario
Power Authority for 42 cents per kilowatt hour under the
wasn’t too long after that the world-wide economic recession
hit, tightening access to credit in most markets.
"It slowed discussions down, and we spent a bit more time working with
the bank credit committees to get them comfortable with regards to the
project," Gray says. "SunEdison continued to close on solar
projects while much of the industry was put on the sidelines for a year
bankers and the investment industry are apparently getting more
comfortable with renewable energy.
think as more projects come on line, there’s more
understanding of the asset as an investment. Solar is moving from
one-off boutique financings into large infrastructure style
The Norfolk project was split between two sites—one in Simcoe
and another five miles away in Port Dover—because of grid
Green Energy Act, passed in 2009, is designed to wean the
province from coal-fired energy
production by 2014. The legislation also spells out a series of steps
designed to streamline approval for renewable energy projects.
"There’s only so much grid capacity," Gray says. "We often
split these types of solar projects to minimize grid upgrades."
Nevertheless, the two parks were close enough to take advantage of
economies of scale, Gray says. Each site is about 100 acres.
SunEdison and SkyPower sought permits for the sites in 2008 and 2009.
Gray says it typically takes 12 to 24 months to obtain the necessary
permits, and Norfolk I and II were no exception.
The two sites had a sandy soil profile that had been planted to
low-grade agricultural crops.
"It was difficult to farm, so it made a lot of sense using it for
solar," he says. "It was certainly not fine agricultural land.
"With sandy soil, you have to make sure you are driving the pilings
deep enough that you don’t see any frost heaving in the
winter. One of the most important factors with a solar farm, and
particularly one in Ontario, is having a robust geotechnical study done
detailing how deep those pilings go."
Ground was broken on the projects in March 2010. Gray says SunEdison
acted as the general contractor, having representatives on site at all
times to oversee the projects. It also drew from in-house engineering
"It’s not as simple as it looks on the surface to construct
one of these farms," he says.
Local contractors provided the high- and low-voltage services to hook
the solar parks to Hydro One and Norfolk Power, the local power
Sharp supplied the 14,800 121- and 128-watt thin-film panels from its
Sakai City, Japan, manufacturing facility.
Gray says SunEdison has strong relationships with Sharp and knew the
firm could deliver the quality and number of panels needed in the short
"Having done a lot of different projects globally, we have our supply
chain and logistics down pretty good," Gray says.
Project engineers opted for a fix-mount system because of its value,
especially in conjunction with the thin-film panels.
"For this project, the best bang for the buck is using fixed-mount with
thin-film," Gray says. "Putting thin-film on trackers isn’t
The racking, which consisted of I-beams and other parts, was fabricated
by a U.S.-based roll former.
"There isn’t a lot of racking pre-assembly that can be done.
Most of the racking is put together in the field."
The large influx of materials, including the panels and racking, did
mean some staggering and staging to avoid any transportation
At the peak of construction, each site had about 125 workers, although
they would rotate between them, depending on where they were needed.
Much of the work is repetitive, and project managers set measurable
goals to ensure the project stayed on schedule.
supplied the 14,800 121- and 128-watt thin-film panels from its Sakai
City, Japan, manufacturing facility.
SunEdison has strong relationships with Sharp and knew the
firm could deliver the quality and number of panels needed in the short
"In many ways, a solar farm construction site is more similar to an
assembly line than a regular construction site," Gray says.
Sixteen Satcon inverters convert the DC power to AC. Gray says project
leaders went with Satcon because of what he called the
inverters’ "bankability" and proven track record.
"We have a 20-year power agreement," he says. "Certainly, we designed
the project to have more than a 20-year life."
The project came online this past September. Although the workers no
doubt enjoyed the summer weather compared to having to work in the
winter, the waning fall light was not optimum for starting up a solar
"You do need a certain amount of production data to make sure you
commissioned the site properly," Gray says. "Ideally it’s a
bright sunny day in the summer."
The project has been doing well since start-up.
"We’re pleased with the performance. Certainly it’s
been what we expected to produce on a weather-adjusted basis.
"That’s where it’s allowed us to use our expertise.
It’s one thing to be able to get a site up and running as
quickly as possible. It’s another to have a site perform as
SunEdison isn’t stopping with Norfolk I and II. The firm has
a project in southwest Ontario under development that uses crystalline
panels on single-axis trackers. It is expected to come online during
the second quarter of this year.
"Eventually, as the cost of trackers and crystalline panels comes down,
they make more and more economic sense," he says.
SunEdison has also recently announced an additional 30 MW of
utility-scale projects that have been awarded by the Ontario Power
Authority. These projects are being built under the feed-in tariff
(FIT) program, which requires at least 60 percent domestic content. As
a result, MEMC, SunEdison’s parent company, is teaming with
Flextronics of Newmarket, Ontario, to produce MEMC-branded solar panels
that will be used on SunEdison projects.
SunEdison also has an arrangement with Samco Solar, a division of metal
fabricator Samco Machinery Ltd. of Toronto, to build the Delta Rack,
SunEdison’s proprietary, non-penetrating roof-mount system.
"I think as the FIT market really gets going, it will be interesting to
see the supply chains in Ontario get much more sophisticated," Gray