World's biggest solar plant officially opens

Today is the grand opening of Ontario’s Sarnia solar plant, which is officially the world’s largest.

“Green energy is a strong emerging business for Enbridge that delivers attractive returns and stable cash flows,” said John Maniawski, director of power generation business development at Enbridge Inc, in an exclusive interview. “One of the reasons we’re attracted to it is that the risk-reward attributes of this business are similar to our other businesses in crude transportation and gas distribution.”

It seems like an unlikely project for this company, which has traditionally been focused on crude oil and natural gas transportation. But Enbridge introduced the completed second phase of the Sarnia, Ontario PV power plant it developed with First Solar today (October 4). The completion of the 60 megawatt phase makes the Sarnia plant, at 80 MWs, the largest PV plant in the world.

The company entered the PV market in 2009 when the first 20 MW phase of the PV power plant went online.

“We had been interested in solar energy for some time,” Maniawski said. “We wanted to target a project generating attractive returns, in a jurisdiction that supports renewable energy on an ongoing basis, and a project that could deliver meaningful environmental benefits. It was important that it was a project that could generate attractive economics for Enbridge.”

“We’re very pleased [First Solar achieved completion] three months ahead of schedule,” he said. “We have seen them to be a disciplined company with attentiveness to safety and high-quality, with a focus on delivering projects in a timely fashion.”

Enbridge “targeted Ontario specifically because of its strong support of renewables, including solar energy,” Maniawski explained. He cited two important incentives offered through the Canadian province’s Green Energy Act.

The act created renewable incentives including a feed-in tariff and the renewable energy standard offer program (RESOP).

Under the RESOP program, Enbridge contracted with the Ontario Power Authority to sell the electricity for $420 (Canadian, $411.16 U.S.) per MW hour produced by the system, he said. The deal included a 20-year solar power-purchase agreement, he added.

Along with the investment in the Sarnia plant, Maniawski said the company is making investments into various renewable energy projects.

“We have advanced our renewable energy platform significantly over the past year, by committing about one and a half billion to projects,” he said. Thos projects, according to Maniawski, include three wind and a geothermal installation. Enbridge will continue to invest about $2 billion a year into its renewable energy projects, he said.