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Last updateWed, 18 Sep 2019 5pm

Fox Coulee Solar project approved in Starland

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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.”

Maclean’s ranks Mountain View County last in Canada, MLA Cooper weighs in

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Recently elected Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper is criticizing Maclean’s magazine for ranking Mountain View County last in its ranking of 415 of “Canada’s Best Communities” this year.
    Mountain View County, which includes the towns of Olds, Sundre, Carstairs, Didsbury, was ranked last in Maclean’s annual list, which assesses cities based on factors like crime, economy, affordability, amenities, and culture.
    While hundreds of communities across Canada are not even included in the list, Drumheller being one of them, the area’s MLA, Nathan Cooper, has written Maclean’s editorial staff saying he has taken issue with their opinion of Rocky View County. He says they used inaccurate information in their assessment, including misleading population numbers and incorrectly listing zero doctor’s offices in the area.
    “Unlike the majority of the communities listed, Mountain View County is a larger rural municipality, surrounding five significant population centres, none of which were included in your list,” he wrote, adding that the population is probably closer to 40,000 people when all the municipal populations are included, rather than the 13,000 Maclean’s listed.
    “Attempting to describe Mountain View County in isolation of the towns and villages makes about as much sense as crafting a federal equalization formula that includes western oil and gas revenues, while excluding the true value of central and eastern hydro energy revenues.”
    Outside of Mountain View County, Alberta’s highest ranked community was St. Albert at the 23rd spot, and Canmore at 28. Communities in Ontario accounted for 9 of the top 10 spots on the ranking, with Burlington, Grimsby, and Ottawa ranked as the top three communities in Canada.

Town, union reach four-year agreement

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    The Town of Drumheller and its employee union have reached a four-year deal which will see wage increases for some town employees , after council ratified the collective agreement at their meeting on Monday, August 19.

    Wages will increase at about 2 per cent per year until the end of 2022, when the agreement expires, for an 8.9 per cent increase by the end of the agreement. 

The union, Local 4604, consist of staff in bylaw enforcement, Badlands Community Facility and Aquaplex employees, RCMP office staff, and support staff including administrative assistants, office assistants, and town support staff like program coordinators. 

“Council recognizes the important contribution our inside workers make

to our organization and thanks both bargaining teams for their hard work on creating this agreement,” Mayor Heather Colberg said in a press release.

    Town Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Barbara Miller says the town is happy to have reached a deal they believe is is fair to taxpayers and employees. She notes that union agreements are typically only two or three years long, so a four year deal “provides stability.”

    “It takes into consideration the challenges of the operational budget constraints while also recognizing employee contribution,” Miller said. 

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