The Fox Coulee Solar Project has been approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), and the developer is hoping to be in the build phase by next fall.
In a decision dated August 13, the AUC, states “…the Commission finds that approval of the project is in the public interest having regard to the social, economic and other effects of the project, including its effects on the environment.”
“It has definitely been a lot of work to get to this stage,” said Victor Beda, project manager for Aura Power Renewables. “As a regular Albertan, it is comforting there are these kinds of processes in place and that the appropriate scrutiny gets placed on this and hopefully every project in Alberta.”
The Mail first reported on the project in January of 2018 when Aura Power hosted its first informal Open House to share its project plans. The project is to construct and operate a 75 megawatts solar power plant with battery storage north of Drumheller in Starland County. It will consist of about 271,000 solar photovoltaic modules mounted on racks. It will be sited on approximately 380 acres of land and will be connected to the ATCO Electric feeder lines through underground lines.
Beda says the project is not participating in any Alberta grant programs and welcomes the recent decision by the Albert government to continue to operate an energy-only market where generators are paid only for the energy they produce in real-time when energy is required.
“With the Alberta Government cancellation of the capacity market, we see free-market enterprise as being more prominent in Alberta,” said Beda.
The project did not come without opposition. Due to some of the concerns, the Commission decided a hearing would be required. The Commission received 32 statements of intent to participate from 36 individuals who formed the Solar Opposition Participants (SOP) Group.
Hearings were held in Drumheller from March 5-7, 2019. Following the hearings, the commission allowed the Town of Drumheller to file written submissions.
Some of the concerns by the SOP were the proximity of the airport and safety concerns if there was an accident or fire, as well as loss of space for emergency landings. There were also concerns about glare from the installation affecting pilots or drivers, along with concerns about wildlife, and using cultivatable land for this type of project.
The Town of Drumheller echoed concerns about aircraft safety and emergency response.
The approval came with several conditions. Among those includes developing an emergency plan with the local fire department and emergency responders and to carry out an emergency response exercise. They are to file a report on complaints or concerns about solar glare from the project during the first year of operation and install and apply an anti-reflective coating to solar panels used in the project. They are also ordered to develop a vegetation control plan and carry out post-construction monitoring surveys.
The next step for Aura Power is working on its approvals from the County of Starland.
“Our next step is to apply to the municipality, and this will be their chance to weigh in,” said Beda. “There are certainly some different requirements at the municipal level as well.”
“We are certainly hoping we will have our municipal permits and our final engineering and design completed by the spring and we will move to the procurement stage. We have committed to Alberta Environment to be constructing during the fall season, so probably the earliest time we would start is the fall of 2020.”
Beda said the AUC process helped to get out the proper information on the project and he is looking forward to taking the next steps.
“We are very much looking forward to being a good neighbour and being there for the next 25-35 years,” said Beda. “We are really excited to meet people in Drumheller, work with the Town of Drumheller and surrounding area and bring something that is really great. I hope people who were enthusiastic are still enthusiastic, and I hope the people who opposed the project can now see through the benefits of the project.”