This article takes the E. L. Smith Solar Farm, a proposed municipal solar energy infrastructure project in Edmonton, Alberta, as a case study of solar imaginaries as they intertwine with material and social realities. Set for installation at the E. L. Smith Water Treatment Plant site on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton’s River Valley, the largest urban greenspace in North America, this solar project has evoked divergent, sometimes unanticipated responses as stakeholders speculate about what futures are possible and preferable. The article examines the possibilities and challenges that the proposed E. L. Smith Solar Farm holds, as a municipal energy project, to positively disrupt oil-loyal provincial and federal power relations, specifically given the City of Edmonton’s August 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, the Wet’suwet’en cause and other solidarity blockades in Alberta and across Canada in early 2020, and Alberta’s subsequent Critical Infrastructure Bill 1, passed in early 2020. Investigating the ways in which the issues are being debated by various constituencies throughout the approval/rejection process, the article extrapolates approaches and strategies that might inform policy and proposes that not all solar powered projects are equal. While some produce solarities (more just energy futures), others operationalize solar energy’s good press towards solarcultural futures that are little more than an extension of the petrocultural status quo.
Solarities or Solarculture: Bright or Bleak Energy Futures and the E. L. Smith Solar Farm
Sheena Wilson is Professor of Media, Communications, and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, on Treaty No. 6 territory. Publication highlights include “Energy Imaginaries:Feminist and Decolonial Futures” (2018); Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Cultures (with Adam Carlson and Imre Szeman, 2017); and “Gendering Oil:Tracing Western Petrosexual Relations” (2014).
Sheena Wilson; Solarities or Solarculture: Bright or Bleak Energy Futures and the E. L. Smith Solar Farm. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 January 2021; 120 (1): 137–150. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-8795779
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