153. Vulcan builds Canada’s first solar park

Town of 2,000 goes where no Canadian has gone before

Category: Education, Renewable Energy, Solar

Published: September 5, 2016

By David Dodge & Dylan Thompson

It seems fitting that Vulcan, Alberta is home to the first solar park in Canada. After all this small town of fewer than 2,000 people loves making science reality out of science fiction. They built a replica starship enterprise, and a space station-styled visitor centre while declaring themselves full-on Trekkies.

Star Trek capital of Canada

Vulcan Alberta is selfie heaven with it's starship visitors centre, signs with Star Trek characters and it's 5-ton replica Vulcan Star Ship that welcomes visitors to town. The visitors were from Edmonton in this case! Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

With it’s starship visitors centre, and it’s 5-ton replica star ship, Vulcan Alberta is selfie heaven! Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Vulcan is the Star Trek capital of Canada, so it’s not surprising we got a “live long and prosper” from Mayor Tom Grant soon after we arrived. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, visited Vulcan in 2010 to pay homage to the town and its fascination with all things Trek.

Let’s face it, if not for the Star Trek theme, Vulcan, Alberta would probably be known more for its A&W and gas station along Highway 23 than anything else.

But it’s much more than that. There is a spirit and pride of place here. The town has embraced the seeming contradiction between their rich, agricultural history and space-age theme.

More than just energy

For many, the term solar park conjures images of PV modules looking up from a utilitarian field. But this park is first and foremost a place to relax and play.

Students in Vulcan, Alberta helped choose the theme for the town's solar park, one of the first of its kind in Canada. The design of the solar art mimics the nine in a row grain elevators that once made Vulcan one of the largest grain shipping centres in Western Canada. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

The design of the solar art mimics the nine-in-a-line grain elevators that once made Vulcan one of the largest grain shipping centres in Western Canada. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

“We were looking at developing a showcase for renewable energy,  but we wanted to incorporate that into the community,” says Kyle Green, Vulcan’s project manager for the solar park.

Formerly a fenced-off brownfield, the site used to house an old bulk fuel sales business. Today, the site is home to green grass, an artistic assortment of solar installations, and a row of solar structures, which were designed resemble grain elevators.

This solar installation concept of nine-in-a-line grain elevators came from local students. It pays homage to Vulcan’s history as a major grain shipping centre with nine grain elevators in a row along the CPR railway line.

“The solar panels on them produce electricity that goes back into the grid and kind of gives you an idea of what the nine-in-a-line would look like,” says Tom Grant, mayor of Vulcan.

The solar system is only 23 kilowatts, enough to power two to three homes. However, energy production was not the primary goal for Vulcan’s solar park. Rather, the town wanted to create a green space out of a brownfield, educate people about solar energy and create a pleasant park space for residents and visitors alike.

“The solar park is right downtown in Vulcan. And another side to that is the aesthetics,” says Kyle Green.

Not Vulcan’s first green project

The solar tree behind Mayor Grant was designed and built by Matt Orr a local entrepreneur who added the ornamental solar tree about the same time Vulcan was designing its new solar park to build on its Star Trek theme. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Matt Orr, a local entrepreneur designed and built the town’s solar tree. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Before the solar park Matt Orr, son of a local businessman raised money to design and build a solar tree. It now sits close to the Starship Enterprise replica along the highway, a harbinger of the solar era that is dawning.

Vulcan’s solar park was a unique way to build a park on a brownfield, showcase solar energy production and play off the town’s Star Trek theme, but Vulcan Country could also soon be home to a couple of very large solar projects.

Alberta’s solar industry going warp 9

EDF Energies has proposed to build a 77 megawatt solar project that would occupy six sections of land at the south end of Vulcan County. EDF is in a partner with Enbridge in the 300 megawatt Blackspring Ridge Wind Farm already built in the same area.

The late, great, Leonard Nimoy visited Vulcan in 2010 to pay homage to the Star Trek Capital of Canada. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

The late, great, Leonard Nimoy visited Vulcan in 2010 to pay homage to the Star Trek Capital of Canada. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Enbridge has plans to construct Alberta Solar One, a 10 megawatt solar project. This  will feature Morgan Solar’s Sun Simba solar concentrating modules, which use a dual-axis sun-tracking system.

Altogether, 372 megawatts of solar are in the planning stages for Alberta. This will increase the Alberta’s solar capacity 37 fold. Of course some of this solar prospecting is in part dependent on the shape of Alberta’s upcoming solar support programs. The province plans to replace coal-fired electricity by with at least 30 per cent renewable energy before 2030.

And this kind of stunning growth is even more dramatic globally. The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has just received a bid to develop 800 megawatts of solar for US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour. It’s part of a plan to develop 5,000 megawatts of solar in the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

Live long and prosper

Back in Vulcan we’re in the visitor centre, which welcomes 12,000 – 17,000 visitors each year. Karen Haller with Vulcan tourism shows off a memorial display for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Rod Roddenberry, Gene’s son came to Vulcan dedicate the memorial to him.

Be sure to visit the starship visitor centre and museum in Vulcan, Alberta. Consider going during VulCon, their annual Star Trek convention which runs July 21st and 22nd in 2017. Be sure to pick your own set of Vulcan ears at the visitor center!

Sunny prairie town