An Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing was held in Drumheller to consider an application by Aura Power Renewables to develop a solar farm near the Drumheller Airport and a group of residents came out to have their voices heard.
Aura Power Renewable has been working on the Fox Coulee Solar Project for over a year. The Mail first reported in January of last year on the project. It is a 75-megawatt project with 270,000 panels, that will occupy a 400-acre parcel of land. The company has applied to the Alberta Utilities Commission, and on March 5, 6 & 7 a hearing was held at the Badlands Community Facility.
A group of 38 participants voiced their opposition and concerns at the hearing. The group represents the adjacent acreage owners, landowners, and local pilots, voicing concerns for the proposed location.
“We understand there is a push for renewable energy projects, but this location just isn’t feasible due to the number of homeowners in the area and an airport and all the safety risks that come with it. We do not feel these serious safety risks are worth taking to save this foreign company money at this location being near a power substation,” the group stated in a release.
Victor Beda, Project manager for Aura Power is aware of the concerns and said he learned very early on there would be opposition.
“The only thing we can do is follow the rules that are laid out before us, which we are happy to do. But ultimately the Alberta Utilities Commission is there for these sort of disagreements and weigh whether or not it is in the benefit of Albertans, so we look forward to their decision,” Beda said.
Safety is one of the primary concerns of the group. The area is close to farms and acreages and they state the local volunteer fire departments are unable to combat a blaze in the energized power plant area. Some of the homeowners could be trapped between large deep coulees and the massive, energized power plant. They also feel it is a poor location for commercial use when there are many other more suitable locations available for such a project with lesser quality farmland.
The group is also concerned about the airport. They state that glint and glare assessments have identified periods of glare at the airport grounds and on final approach paths for both east and west runways. They are concerned if an aircraft were to have an engine failure over the site, the pilot and passengers would be forced to land in a fenced area of steel posts and energized solar panels. Glare has also been identified at adjacent acreages, on three surrounding county roadways, and on Highway 9.
They are also concerned about Wildlife Impacts. The proposed solar farm area is between large coulees and may force wildlife to the roadways and airport runways. They also state there are no known recycling facilities identified for the solar equipment after such a project is decommissioned.
Beda says the project is a benefit to the province as well as the local area.
“We are completely confident this is going to be a net benefit to the people of Alberta but mostly to the people in Drumheller. We are going to be bringing in staff to work in the area, we are going to be using restaurants, hotels, buying fuel and bringing employment to the area,” said Beda.
He adds that after the construction, there will still be employment through security, and maintenance of the site.
“On top of that we are going to be paying substantial tax to Starland County and it is up to them to use it for whatever purposes, whether it will be upgrading roads, building parks,” he said.
The AUC decision is expected within 90 days of the hearing.
"It will be up to the commission as to whether they want our project to go ahead, we’ll have to see what they say, But I think we put our best foot forward and were able to communicate how our project conforms to the regulatory aspects that were laid out before us,” he said.
Beda says if they are able to get through the AUC regulatory process, they will work with Starland County to make sure they comply with the County’s standards.
“Starland County requires an AUC approval presented to them before they consider the project,” said Beda. ”The AUC is there to provide a high-level overview to the municipality. They have their radar on all different aspects, and they have done this many times before so I think it makes good sense for municipalities to default to the AUC decision so they don’t have to research and reinvent things from the ground up.”