Canada’s largest rooftop solar power installation will soon be growing pot in Alberta, say its operators.
And Calgary-owned Enmax and the province’s carbon tax are playing integral roles in the buzz surrounding fledgling Freedom Cannabis’ federally licensed operation with 4,574 solar panels covering 115,000 square feet of the facility’s roof.
“It’s exciting, it sets us apart as a leader and we’re happy about that,” said Troy Dezwart, co-founder of the business located at Acheson, 20 kilometres west of Edmonton.
Enmax is providing the panels and servicing, while the $2.6-million price tag is being subsidized by a $1-million grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta, the sustainable power initiative created by the province’s former NDP government.
Dezwart noted the new UCP government has been cool on the program, which ceased taking new applications a week ago, while Premier Jason Kenney has vowed to eliminate the carbon tax that’s funded it.
“We had to argue there’s a considerable amount of energy being consumed by our operation . . . this has been a great opportunity for the business community to embrace these kinds of strategies to help the environment,” said Dezwart. “Our timing was good.”
Freedom Cannabis’ solar array will generate a maximum 1,830 kilowatts of power, enough to offset 1,041 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, said Dezwart.
The company hopes the renewable energy source will provide five to eight per cent of its energy needs while reducing its electricity bill by $200,000 to $300,000 a year.
“A facility of this scale consumes a lot of power and we need to do things to manage the bottom line,” he said.
“We’re always exploring different ways of helping the environment.”
That also includes water remediation and could incorporate the use of biofuels and environmentally sustainable packaging, said the company.
The grower acknowledged cannabis producers’ power appetite is enormous, adding that the sector in the U.S. consumes one per cent of all electrical energy consumed there.
Dezwart said he hopes to have the solar panels working by late August to help power its first phase, slated to produce 3,000 to 4,000 kilograms of cannabis flower a year.
“By the time that phase is fully functional, we’ll be using nearly all or all of that power,” he said, adding a second phase could add up to 14,000 kilograms to production.
The operation has contracts to provide for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, and its retail customers as well as its Ontario counterpart, said Dezwart, with an eye to expanding throughout Canada and into Europe.
In a Freedom Cannabis news release, the utility’s director of solar operations hailed the partnership as a promising example for sustainability.
“Freedom Cannabis is setting a positive environmental precedent in their industry and Enmax is proud to support this organization in delivering on their environmental commitments,” said Jason Atkinson.
An Enmax spokesman couldn’t say if the utility was partnered with other cannabis growers because “we consider that information proprietary. We do look forward to supporting clients with solar projects going forward.”
In its 2018-19 business plan dated last March 31, Energy Efficiency Alberta — part of the NDP government’s Climate Leadership Plan — said it’s devoted $31.5 million to renewable energy projects since 2017.
During the recent provincial election, Kenney vowed to end the program, which also subsidized shower heads and energy-efficient water heaters, one he called a bureaucratic boondoggle.
But more recently, he’s said his government might keep some of the initiatives funded by the carbon tax but wouldn’t help fund items such as light bulbs and shower heads.
Energy Efficiency Alberta’s operators say it’s created 3,600 jobs and spearheaded $510 million in savings.