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OPINION: From sulphur to solar: A big idea for Sudbury’s Superstack

Picture this: Sudbury could transform the Superstack into the world’s largest solar energy source

Sudbury’s story is inextricably linked to our Superstack. The story is not just environmental degradation. It is also inextricably connected to the planting of millions of trees, the extraordinary recovery of our lakes, the enriching of our depleted soils, and the return of biodiversity. 

Growing up in Sudbury meant being associated with the Superstack, which I thought was a ‘cloud-making machine’ when I was really young. I didn’t understand the environmental legacy. What I knew at a young age was that we were here because of nickel.

This symbol of our city and Canada’s second tallest structure represents massive possibility. Once gone, a big piece of the city’s identity and story will be lost, along with the opportunity to remake this emblem of Sudbury’s environmentally dark past into one of a regenerative future. 

As a child, I participated in the regreening efforts each year, as did so many Sudburians. We planted millions of trees on our ‘moonscape’. It inspired my career and understanding of humanity’s ability to be agents of degradation or regeneration. It was apparent to me that we could kill whole ecosystems in pursuit of the things we needed – or we could come together to heal and restore conditions conducive for life. 

Sudbury proved both in a single century.

While demolition by implosion was ruled out because of the obvious hazards that would create, demolition by any means will have huge energy and carbon implications, cost millions of dollars, and might bring negative air quality impacts to local residents. 

But, what if the Superstack became a major Canadian tourist attraction and solar energy source?

The world’s tallest solar energy source 

My design studio – McLennan Design – offers the City of Greater Sudbury a new vision for the remaking the Superstack.

Sudbury has proclaimed a climate emergency. What better way to declare to the world our intent and leadership than by transforming the Superstack into a beacon of change. 

Imagine the Superstack armoured in solar panels, ascending 1,200 feet to the height of the stack, transforming the one-time massive pollution source into the world’s tallest solar energy source. If people come to Sudbury excited about the Big Nickel, imagine what the Superstack could become.

Imagine people going up the Superstack in a superfast, renewably powered elevator, in an experience powered completely by the sun, to take in the view of the entire region. They would see the impacts of mining at its base and our beautiful lakes and regreened hills and valleys for miles around from its summit. 

By my calculations, this solar installation could be large enough to power the entire town of Copper Cliff. Given that solar is now the cheapest new form of energy generation, the economics are powerful and positive.

A dedication to Sudbury’s regreening pioneers

Imagine, after an incredible ride to the top (to a height taller than the main levels of the CN Tower), arriving at a beautiful, glittering greenhouse ecosystem designed in a shape to be symbolic of the smoke that used to billow out of the stack, now filled with native plants in a celebration of place and the revitalization efforts in the landscape below. 

It would be dedicated to the citizens, public servants, educators, and scientists of Sudbury, who together imagined what could be accomplished with years of dedicated hard work and careful stewardship. This would be a place of multi-faceted learning and inspiration – perhaps an extension of Science North – a living lesson in renewable energy. This would be a place for visitors from around the world to collect inspiration and motivation from the story of how a northern town came together to make history again.

A sustainable economic engine 

Tourism in Greater Sudbury continues to grow and there is interest these days in authentic experiences. People want to tour breweries and factories and learn how things work. People would clamour to tour the mining facility and then rise to the top of the Nickel City’s rebranded icon, a showcase for Vale’s leadership and a progressive future. This design would put Sudbury on the map for its leadership on climate change and restoration. 

The tourist site would generate both ticket sales and saleable energy, a much better proposition than spending money to merely take it down. The project would also generate much needed tourism jobs and further support businesses in the community in multiple ways. 

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to return home for a visit. I serve on the board of the new McEwen School of Architecture downtown. Having a world-class school of architecture in Sudbury isn’t something I thought would ever happen. It is testament again to what this community can accomplish. 

Growing up in Sudbury, I learned that people underestimate us. We are capable of achievement out of proportion to our size and geography. Although the world is my market, my hometown will always be Sudbury.

It was greatly concerning to hear of the planned demise of the Superstack that figured so largely in my imagination as a child. Once gone, it’s gone forever. Removing it from our skyline would be a huge missed opportunity. Taking it down is thinking small; turning it into something revolutionary is what we need to do.

Anything good must start with an idea. It's nothing we haven't done before. Imagine the planet’s tallest solar array, generating clean energy mounted to the former tallest smokestack in the world not producing pollution, but renewable energy along with a greenhouse that  also happens to be the tallest planetarium and human biosphere on the globe. 

A new symbol of hope and the start of something big for Sudbury.

Have we piqued your curiousity? If you would like more information or would like to sign up for a possible webinar with Jason McLennan on the solar tower concept, please contact us at solarstack@sudbury.com.

Bio: Jason McLennan

Considered one of the world’s most influential individuals in the field of architecture and green building movement today, Jason McLennan is a highly sought out designer, consultant and thought leader around the planet. He is the recipient of the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Prize (the planet’s top prize for socially responsible design). He has been called the ‘Steve Jobs’ of the green building industry, a “World Changer” by GreenBiz magazine and has been selected as the Award of Excellence winner for Engineering News Record – one of the only individuals in the architecture profession to have won the award in its 52-year history. McLennan is the creator of the Living Building Challenge, the most stringent and progressive green building program in existence, as well as a primary author of the WELL Building Standard, which is sweeping the globe. He is the author of six books on sustainability and design – used by thousands of practitioners each year, including the Philosophy of Sustainable Design, which is considered the ‘bible for green building’ – and is both an Ashoka Fellow and Senior Fellow of the Design Future’s Council. He has been selected by Yes! Magazine as one of ‘15 people shaping the world’ and works closely with world leaders, Fortune 500 companies, leading NGOs, major universities, celebrities and influential development companies – all in the pursuit of a world that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. He serves as the chairman of the International Living Future Institute and is the CEO of McLennan Design,  his own architectural and planning practice designing some of the world’s most advanced green buildings. McLennan’s work has been published in dozens of journals, magazines and newspapers around the world.




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