Oil Sands Giant Suncor Makes Move Into Solar

Oilsands Refinery

By Jonny Wakefield

March 31, 2016

Oil sands giant Suncor is making its first foray into the energy source it’s named for.

The company, Canada’s largest oil sands firm, has submitted a request to the Alberta Electric System Operator to build three solar photovoltaic facilities totalling 240 megawatts.

If approved, the Suncor developments would vastly expand the province’s existing solar capacity, currently rated at a mere nine megawatts. Suncor is also considering expanding its wind farm portfolio.  

This is the latest in the company’s bid to rebrand itself and diversify amid low commodity prices and growing concerns over the impact of Alberta’s oil sands on climate change. Suncor CEO Steve Williams was one of four oil company bosses to endorse Premier Rachel Notley’s climate change framework, announced in November. Earlier that year,  the CEO acknowledged climate change, saying “doing nothing is not an option we can choose.”

In a statement to the National Observer, Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher said the company is looking to diversify its energy holdings, but stressed discussions around the solar developments are “very preliminary.”

“Renewable energy is an important part of the global energy mix as we work toward a sustainable energy future,” Fisher said.

The Alberta government is seeking to grow the share of renewable power produced in the province, aiming at 30 per cent by 2030 . Currently, the lion’s share of Alberta’s electricity comes from coal and gas, giving it one of the dirtiest electricity grids in the country.

Jamie Bonham, a manager with NEI Investments, told the Observer that companies like Suncor could see good return on investment with solar, especially given low oil prices.

“The price of oil changes these conversations, and makes these projects look more attractive,” he said.

The company will also be able to take advantage of new incentives for solar developers unveiled last month.

If Suncor’s proposals are accepted, the solar projects could be on the grid as early as March 2018.