By Nikki Jamieson
The sun was shining on the latest developments for the proposed Vauxhall solar project last week.
At the Feb. 21 Municipal District’s of Taber’s Subdivision and Development authority meeting, a development hearing for the Vauxhall Solar project was held with representatives from BowMont Capital Advisory Ltd. and Canadian Solar Solutions Inc., who have partnered together for the project on behalf of CB Alberta Solar Development ULC (CBA), pleading their case.
The Vauxhall Solar project, if approved, would be located on the right side of Highway 36, just past Highway 524, on 150 acres of land. The facility will contain 78,000 solar modules, eight inverter and transformer stations and produce 31 gigawatt hours of energy, or enough energy to power 4,400 households. The Vauxhall Solar project is one of three solar farms the companies have planned for the M.D. of Taber.
One issue with the project was that it is on irrigated land. Although the M.D. council was told that it was on marginal land with no pivot point at the open house last summer, landowners in the area have said that this was not the case. At an October delegation, when questioned, Mark Feenstra, senior manager of project development at CSS, and Ian Sanchez, managing director for BowMont, said that the land was mixed, and the landowner was using this as an opportunity to make his pivots more efficient.
At the hearing, the delegation told the committee that the owner of the land would be transferring those water rights to another piece of property, so no irrigated land would actually be lost.
“The project utilizes a mix of dry as well as irrigated land. Currently, there is one full pivot… there are also two partial pivots that the landowner had,” said Sanchez.
“Those two partial pivots will now be removed, and the existing full pivot will be expanded, and the landowner’s intention is to move those water rights on to other irrigated lands.”
Another issue was glare. Concerns have arisen that due to the facility’s proximity to the highway, the glare from the panels would cause issues for the drivers traveling up and down the highway. However, CSS operates several solar farms, including one adjacent to the Thunder Bay International Airport. During their operations, they have not been made aware of any complaints about glare issues, from either motorists or aircraft.
“We developed a lot of these projects either adjacent to major highways, adjacent to airports or on airport lands and also there are a lot more projects internationally that have been built adjacent to potential areas of high impact for glare,” said Feenstra. “The concern is there, prior to construction, but during operations it hasn’t seemed to be a concern.”
Two letters had been received from landowners in the area, citing concerns about the use of irrigated land, proximity to other residents and increase in power lines. According to the AUC website, no applications pertaining to the Vauxhall solar project has yet been filed as of Friday, Feb. 24.
The situation got tense after the hearing closed, when Sanchez requested that in future submissions to the AUC, they “clarify as much as possible,” as the AUC regards every letter as something to follow up on, which “has the potential to create significant delays for us, which we are trying to avoid”.
The M.D. sent a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission in regard to the project on Feb. 6 — the cutoff date for submissions — and informed them that they had issued a development permit for the Hays project.
The AUC is currently reviewing a power plant permit for the Hays project. He asked that they make it clear that they are not objecting to the project, planning on requesting a hearing or submit more evidence. Although the AUC has not indicated any concerns to them over this, Sanchez said it “helpful” for the other projects.
“From a development standpoint, we have given you an OK with conditions. So how much clearer can we be on the letter? It’s an approval,” said Bob Wallace, M.D. councillor and development authority member.
“I would assume these people can read English, and it does say ‘approved’.”
Jack Dunsmore, director of planning and infrastructure for the M.D., pointed out that when they write their letters, they don’t know if anyone else is writing one, and if ten people submit letters, then they will have to attend a hearing.
Later that day, the development committee granted BowMont and CSS a development permit for the site, subject to 17 conditions. In addition to the letters, they also took into account that BowMont and CSS had worked with the landowner on the pivots.
” It would just be going then from irrigation to dry-land type farming, where he’ll be taking these irrigation water rights and putting them on on a piece of dry-land farming, probably turning it to irrigation, so it’s kind of the better, best of two evils,” said Dunsmore. “It’s a tough one for the M.D. of Taber, because these are going to happen and where can you put them? The province won’t let them put them on their land, and we just don’t know. These are tougher and tougher to get to deal with, because they are taking agriculturally product land out of production.
“They’re going to build them somewhere. They’re going to build them, and if they’re going to build them here, we’ll do what we can, but we also have to protect the rights of landowners surrounding them, and also have to try to protect agriculture property the best we can.”
Although many of the conditions were similar to the ones in the Hays permits, there were some key differences.
For example, in response to a wetland in the vicinity of the project that is on M.D. land, in the permit they cautioned that, “Municipal consent for disturbance/removal of the wetland located in the M.D. of Taber’s road allowance located east of the subject parcel illustrated on the site plan has not been approved through issuance of the development permit. The applicant shall submit a revised site plan indicating that the wetland in the M.D. road allowance is not to be disturbed/removed”.
“They identified that as one of the possible wetlands they were going to remove,” said Dunsmore. “And what we told them is, ‘You won’t be removing anything off that cause it’s not your property, and if you want that to happen, you would need approval from the M.D. of Taber to apply to Alberta Environment’.”
Another change was in response to a road allowance in the area, the committee set a condition that, “a waiver has been granted to the 150 foot setback from the undeveloped road allowance, allowing fencing to be located on the property line and all development, buildings, equipment and improvements to be placed a minimum of 66 feet from the centre line of the MD undeveloped road allowance east of the property line”.
With the permit for the Vauxhall Solar project, this will make the second of two solar farms granted development permits in the M.D. of Taber.
As of press deadline, no AUC application has been submitted for the Vauxhall Solar Project, and one is still pending for the Hays Solar Project.