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Lease deal reached for future solar farm

INNISFAIL - Town council has approved a 26-year land lease agreement with Innisfail Solar Corp. for the future development of a solar farm on up to 80 acres of town-owned land immediately north of the Innisfail Golf Club.
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A land lease agreement has been reached between the Town of Innisfail and Temporis Developments. The company wants to lease a field of up to 80 town-owned acres of land just north of the Innisfail Golf Club for a solar farm, scheduled to be operational by 2019. Submitted photo


INNISFAIL - Town council has approved a 26-year land lease agreement with Innisfail Solar Corp. for the future development of a solar farm on up to 80 acres of town-owned land immediately north of the Innisfail Golf Club.

The agreement was approved almost three months after U.K.-based Temporis Developments, which is partnering with Innisfail local entrepreneur Robert Bilton, publicly unveiled plans to construct a $24-million  20-megawatt facility that could provide power for up to 4,000 homes.

During the company's presentation to council on Jan. 29 the public was told the project could bring in as much as $35,000 annually for the town, along with additional property tax revenues, and up to $20,000 a year for community groups through a new community endowment fund.

The new solar farm, expected to be under construction in 2019, would be the second in the province, after the recently launched solar farm in Brooks, which now generates 17 megawatts of power.

"We are chomping at the bit ready to go. It has been quite a long time. It's great we are finally here. We are keen to get going and starting the project," said Robbie Donaldson, managing director of Temporis who was at council's regular meeting on April 23 when the option to lease agreement was approved. "Its really the landowner and the developer confirming they are both committed to wanting to see this project happen.

"The most important relationship in these types of projects is with the landowner. In this instance the landowner is the Town of Innisfail," he added. "You are going to be a partner with that stakeholder for the entire life of the project, whereas all the other stuff is probably relevant for much shorter time frames."

The lease calls for a 26-year term, including one year to address a decommissioning period, and a provision for the company to inform the town by April 1 of each year of the five-year option period whether it intends to move ahead with construction, which would allow the town to determine management of the land until the facility is operational.

Todd Becker, the town's chief administrative officer, said it was important the agreement stipulates the company has up to five years to get its "ducks in a row" before the solar farm becomes operational.

"They have to do all their testing, make all their applications for their licensing, attract a power purchaser. So they have up to five years to exercise that option," said Becker. "Within that time period as they establish their development and get permitting into the town they will exercise their ability to have a solar farm."

He said there was "no contention" during the time to reach an agreement and there was a "good negotiation" process between the two parties to get the lease agreement done.

Donaldson said the next step for his company is to talk to FortisAlberta about the exact type of connection that will be required for the new solar farm, and to address ecology and field studies of the land for a report that will go to Alberta Environment. The goal is to get a satisfactory letter of approval that can be used to secure a permit from the Alberta Utilities Commission to build the facility.

As for financing, Donaldson said it's typically difficult to secure project monies until the developer gets the permit and completes all necessary detailed studies.

"Until those key bits are in place, as well as the land agreement, which is now in place, it is difficult to nail that down. I am not overly concerned about that at the moment," he said. "It has been one of our strengths in  the past, securing financing.

"We are laying the groundwork for that at the moment, absolutely, but that is something we will look to nail down towards the fall when we are closer to getting the permit and completing all the grid work."