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Shell Canada says the Quest carbon capture and storage project at the Scotford Upgrader north of Edmonton has reached the milestone of four million tonnes of stored carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions of about one million cars.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Land by an oil processing and petrochemical hub just outside Edmonton will soon host a massive solar project the size of 313 Canadian football fields, the latest push from the fossil fuel sector to try and lower its emissions as the world focuses on net-zero.

The solar project will provide about 20 per cent of the electricity needed to power Shell Canada’s Scotford refinery complex – the same facility the company is eyeing for a new carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility – located in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing region, the heartland is already home to a large-scale CCS system called the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line and this year launched Canada’s first hydrogen hub.

Shell Canada president says carbon capture facility an integral part of company’s emissions reduction plan

The new Scotford project will be the first large-scale solar installation in the heartland, with construction due to begin next year. It’s expected to begin providing electricity to the refinery by late 2023.

Shell’s Scotford facility consists of a bitumen upgrader, oil refinery, chemicals plant and the Quest CCS facility, which has captured and stored more than five million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Electricity from the new solar farm will be used in the refinery portion of the facility.

It will join a five-megawatt solar farm Shell built to provide power for Scotford’s chemical production operations, which will begin generating electricity by the end of the year.

Mark Pattenden, Shell’s senior vice-president of chemicals and products, said the company is identifying more opportunities to further decarbonize operations at Scotford, including hydrogen and biofuels.

Although those plans are still at an early stage, they “are clearly the next things to come in this overall vision of what we do as an energy and chemicals park,” he said.

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The new 414-acre solar farm next to Scotford will have about 175,000 solar panels, and generate power equivalent to the annual energy consumption of about 8,700 average Canadian homes.

“When I saw this for the first time, it blew my mind how big this is,” Mr. Pattenden said in an interview.

The solar farm will be built, owned and operated by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch, one of the largest independent power producers in the United States. The company has more than 140 solar facilities in 15 states across the country, from California to Colorado, Georgia and New York.

All of the power generation capacity from its first Canadian project will be dedicated to the Scotford refinery for the next 25 years.

Reagan Farr, the chief executive and co-founder of Silicon Ranch, said in a statement that the Alberta project is a “meaningful milestone” as the company expands its operations into Canada.

The company expects to invest about $100-million to build the facility and plans to hire approximately 150 people to support construction efforts.

Shell holds a 46-per-cent equity share of Silicon Ranch. Mr. Pattenden said Shell invested in the company a few years ago with the intention of pursuing various green power opportunities in the U.S.

Like many energy companies operating in Canada, Shell has pledged to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

To hasten the pace of change, it last month set a target to reduce the company’s absolute global emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, compared to 2016 levels. The goal covers Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which come directly from its operations and from the energy it buys to run its operations.

Between CCS, the two solar projects and a power purchase agreement to buy 50 megawatts of electricity from a wind farm in Southern Alberta, Mr. Pattenden said that reduction is well on its way at Scotford.

The next challenge will be cutting Scope 3 emissions, which cover pollution created when consumers burn Shell’s products.

Mr. Pattenden said that will come down to biofuels, sustainable aviation fuel and hydrogen replacing traditional fossil fuels.

“That is going to be part of the energy transition over the next 20 or 30 years.”

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