Ambition: Every rural community in Alberta is producing community benefits for itself through generating renewable power at a competitive cost.
The Solar Lab will help transition rural Alberta to the 2050 Vision of net-carbon neutral electricity through the implementation of community-owned, renewable energy. This project supports an innovative approach to electricity production by way of a decentralized electricity grid where rural communities develop resiliency by producing the electricity they need for their own consumption. Furthermore, the Solar Lab is attempting to change the frame on energy development in Alberta by making the community benefits the primary outcome and energy production secondary to this.
This is a capacity-building initiative focused on connecting rural communities to the information,
resources, expert advice and skills to develop their community-owned renewable energy
projects. The Solar Lab works with rural communities to build their own unique paths forward from intent to develop a renewable energy project to an actual install. The initiative is part of the Stettler Learning Centre’s Rural Routes to Climate Solutions project (RR2CS).
There are and have been many introductory solar PV 101 info sessions in Alberta, but rural
communities are usually left wondering what to do next after an info session. Not all rural communities have access to the same level of renewable energy expertise that Calgary and Edmonton have for follow-up sessions. Furthermore, the post-provincial election 2019 political climate has resulted in an increased degree of uncertainty among Albertans as to the future of renewable energy development.
Capacity-building is a slow process in general, but in addition to this, none of the communities Rural Routes is working with want to move forward on their solar projects until their projects have proper access to funding.
What has worked quite well is building partnerships with other organizations working in the same energy transition space as Rural Routes like the Energy Futures Roadshow, Newo Energy, Alberta Community and Co-operatives Association and the David Suzuki Foundation. Connecting rural communities with the services those organizations can provide has also proven fruitful for those communities to carve out their own unique paths to community renewable energy projects.
Rural Routes to Climate Solutions’ initial outreach to rural communities was to existing contacts in their own agriculture network–farmers, ranchers, agricultural organizations–and to municipalities and/or community groups involved in the MCCAC grant application process. The initial goal of Rural Routes was to work with three rural communities and this goal was easily and quickly surpassed. Currently, RR2CS is engaging or has engaged eight different rural communities.