Written by Paul Figueiredo

A first-of-its-kind solar facility was unveiled last week in an event held for media and dignitaries.

The 10 megawatt Highfield Solar Facility came online in the R.M. of Coulee south of Swift Current and promises to provide energy to roughly 2.500 homes.

A number of dignitaries were on hand to tour the new power station, including Doug Steele, Legislative Secretary to the Minister Responsible for SaskPower and SaskEnergy and Kory Hayko, SaskPower's Vice President of Transmission and Industrial Services.

Joining them, and leading the tours, were representatives from the two companies who ultimately put the project together.  Doug Wagner, the CEO and President of Saturn Power, and Kevin Bergeron of Saskatoon-based miEnergy, whose firm acted as general contractor on the project.


For Wagner, whose company began with similar projects in Ontario, this project was the first of its kind in Saskatchewan after expanding their business into other markets.

"About 10 years ago Ontario was about the only place there was anything happening.  Costs have come down drastically over the last ten years.  So it's now competitive and even more competitive on a kilowatt-hour basis than the alternatives are for fossil fuel.  And now we're seeing these recent increases in the cost of natural gas so the gap continues to get even wider in the benefit of solar and wind."

Kevin Bergeron of miEnergy echoed the sentiment.  He considers his company a "dinosaur" when it comes to solar power and renewable energy; having gotten its start in the early 2000s focusing on geothermal and sources that were booming at the time, eventually pivoting to solar in early 2013.  When miEnergy first got started, the cost of solar was still prohibitive, but 

"We're now at a point in time where solar generation can compete and if not in most cases is cheaper than fossil fuel generation.  It's not the be-all or end-all for everybody.  It certainly has its downfalls just like any other generation technology or fuel.  But it complements it well so I mean we're at a point in time when it's economical and I think it's going to grow from there."

Bergeron talked about the challenges in getting the project completed, the construction of which took place mostly over the winter months.

"Weather and COVID.  I think those are two that everyone can recognize.  We're in southern Saskatchewan.  It's a windy place, we have nasty winters.  So you know, challenges with COVID; quarters for our crew to keep them warm and still socially distance and have those appropriate measures in place.  It certainly was a challenge but it's a testament to our partnership with Saturn Power and our collaborative approach and also our team who kind of dug in and did what they had to do to get this project completed on schedule."

Highfield may be the first, but it won't be the only one very soon, as SaskPower has plans for three other 10 megawatt facilities to be added to the province's power grid within the next two years.  The hope is that the 40 MW that comes from these facilities, coupled with the 20 MW that is coming through the Power Generation Partner Program will allow the crown corporation to meet its 60 MW solar commitment in the coming years.

As SaskPower's Kory Hayko explained:

"I think there's been a real shift.  We've got a journey to our cleaner energy future.  We're trying to hit our milestone targets of being 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  Beyond that, we're trying to get to net zero by 2050.  And all of this is part of that journey and we're excited that this project is up and running.  We know we've got more to come to meet our future needs, but we're going to take it one project at a time."

Hayko added that a multi-pronged approach that the government has been taking (investing in solar, wind, helium and other resources such as SMR reactors) is something necessary to reach those climate targets, with all technologies on the table versus a one-size-fits-all approach.  Bergeron agreed, believing that one perfect solution doesn't exist and instead places his bets on a multitude of imperfect solutions.  The mix of Solar and Wind is a perfect example of that, as Highfield's unveiling took place on a sunny windless day surrounded by wind turbines that were not spinning.  

"Mix is very important.  We don't want to be reliant on any one technology.  As an example today with the wind not blowing the sun shining.  Diversity creates risk reduction."