Feds provide PUC with $11.8 million for first-of-its-kind Smart Grid project

Sault Ste. Marie PUC received $11.8 million for a Smart Grid project that will be the first-of-its-kind and largest across North America. The public-private partnership with Infrastructure Energy will see a $50 million investment completed within two years.

Sault Ste. Marie PUC.

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Sault Ste. Marie will soon be the host of the first of its kind and largest Smart Grid system in North America.

Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan announced $11.8 million of grants for PUC Distribution Inc’s smart grid project.

The entire endeavour, the rest of which will be funded by Infrastructure Energy, will cost $50 million.

Infrastructure Energy CEO Glenn Martin says his company is the developer and financial partner for the project.

Funding comes from the Smart Grid Program, part of the federal government’s more than $180-billion Investing in Canada infrastructure plan.

PUC is partnering with Infrastructure Energy to create a smart grid system that will lower the cost of generating and distributing power to customers.

The public-private partnership is geared to create a one-of-a-kind and largest smart grid system across North America, making Sault Ste. Marie a leader in this technology, officials say.

The project, to be completed and online in slightly less than two years, will create 140 middle-income jobs.

PUC CEO Rob Brewer said the community-wide infrastructure project will increase energy efficiency, reduce outages and duration and reduce customer bills by an expected two to four per cent, depending on where customers are on the system.

The smart grid will also have a “self-healing” capacity that allows the system to open and close switches during outages.

Brewer said it’s expected that over the next decade there will be acceleration in electric vehicle hookups, roof-top solar energy or other new technology and the smart grid system will allow the city to move forward with that modernization.

“This will provide us with a lot more insight into our system so we can better understand some of the challenges that come up day-to-day and react to them in a much more efficient way,” he said.

The Sault will be then able to invite other utilities in “to show them what a modern city can do” and be in front of the technology and show its leadership, Brewer said.

Sheehan, who made the announcement Monday on behalf of Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the project will be a game changer for the community.

“This fits perfectly with what we are trying to do as a federal government,” Sheehan said during the announcement. It transforms and improves economic prosperity and protects the environment, he added.

“We’re transforming our economy and creating good jobs but we are also meeting our climate change goals. Nowhere is this more important than in our electrical system by modernizing our grid,” he said.

The smart grid will broaden PUC’s service offerings to clients, increase reliability, efficiency and resiliency of their local electric network.

It can also create new economic opportunities for Sault Ste. Marie by attracting new industries associated with the clean energy sector, including manufacturing, e-commerce, telecommunication services and data centres, Sheehan said.

“We are going to lead all communities in Canada with this project,” he added.

Mayor Christian Provenzano said the federal government grant makes the project possible, not just to modernize the grid but to make PUC an “important asset” to the community.

“The smart grid will make our energy infrastructure more reliable, reduce energy loss and lead to a more innovative economy for our community,” he said.

Provenzano said the project couldn’t have progressed unless government funding was provided.

“I can’t understate the nature of that support and how key it is for this (project) to unfold,” he said.

Provenzano said the project also shows it is critical the city retain ownership of the utility to protect the water and power supply for the city. The utility can also be used to help the Sault become an innovative municipality.

“It is one of the few things that we own and it is one of the most important things that we own and we need to keep ownership in it, we need to invest in it and we need to become leaders,” he said. “We will set an example in Canada and the U.S.  That is success.”

Infrastructure Energy’s Martin said the project has been worked on for several years in partnership with PUC and the city.

Martin said the project will see a series of intelligence technologies installed onto the grid itself, operated through a control system at the PUC operation centre.

It will be the largest smart grid project because it will have the largest berth and impact on customers, having 100-per-cent inclusion across the Sault PUC’s system, Martin said.

It’s hoped that operations will begin by mid-2020 and the entire project will be operational by the end of the year, he said.

Installation will be completed incrementally through each feeder and PUC staff will complete the implementation project, he said.

Former city councillor Steve Butland, who worked on the project, called it gratifying.

“Now we have to take advantage of what we have and tell the rest of North America who we are, what we are and what we are doing and serve as a model. It’s very gratifying and perfect for the Sault,” he said.

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