Medicine Hat takes its claim as Canada's sunniest city seriously. It now has a way to harness the sunshine and turn it into renewable green energy.

The southeastern Alberta city now operates a solar thermal power plant — the first of its kind in Canada.

"The idea behind this project is helping to save gas, some day we will run out of it," said Mayor Ted Clugston.

The plant is part of a $10-million project and follows another green energy project — wind turbines constructed within the city limits. The project was funded with help from the federal and provincial governments.

Large curved steel panels reflect the sun's rays to heat oil inside a metal tube. The oil then creates steam, turning a turbine at the nearby power plant.

Medicine Hat Solar

The field of curved steel panels is part of a $10 million solar thermal power plant in Medicine Hat, Alta. (City of Medicine Hat)

"The purpose of the project was to determine whether or not this technology would work in our climate, our environment," said Gerry Labas, who leads the Medicine Hat energy division.

The focus on renewable energy is a change of direction for Medicine Hat, which has a century-long history in natural gas.

"We haven't turned our back, we've only faced the future," said Clugston. "That's what this project is."

The mayor admits the project makes little financial sense because it only produces one megawatt of electricity on an ideal summer day. It was approved in 2009, back when the city was more flush with cash, and Clugston says if faced with the decision today, council would not approve the project.

The mayor says there are many positives to the project, suggesting it will boost tourism, be a magnet for elementary field trips and make the city seem much more progressive.

The new solar thermal plant is expected to generate enough energy to power 150 homes per year and is one step towards reaching the city's goal of relying on renewable energy for 25 per cent of its electricity by 2025.