By Cole Parkinson
As part of the M.D. of Taber’s Subdivision and Development Authority development hearing, those in attendance are able to voice any concerns they have with the application.
During their meeting on June 17, the application from Aura Power for a 65-megawatt solar farm north of Taber off Highway 36 and Township Road 10-4 was met with more concern from the public.
Andrea Stroeve-Sawa asked a variety of questions about the project including reclamation and where the money to pay to have it returned to pre-construction state would come from.
“We have already had site surveys done with drone operators. There will have to be a lot more detailed investigations,” explained Victor Beda, project manager for Aura Power on how they will know how to return the site to the previous state. “We will have to do a number of site surveys to know what is happening on the land. There will be documentation available to share which will have what the pre-construction state was.”
Beda stated the owner of the land would be judge and jury.
“TID is the landowner, so they would tell us what is acceptable.”
As far as the financial side of things, questions were fired back at Aura Power.
“What happens in the case that Aura Power has gone bankrupt or is no longer in business. Who covers the cost then?” asked Stroeve-Sawa.
“We will do a periodic evaluation, likely every three to five years. If the shortfall is at a level that I described, we would be putting money into escrow to be used for the reclamation of the land. It is likely TID will be administering that if Aura Power is not in business anymore but we will make the funds available,” replied Beda.
Much like the previous development hearing at the November 26 meeting, fire concerns were plenty with residents in the area.
“I noticed on one of your slides it said there will never be a fire but I haven’t seen there was a fire response plan. You have an emergency response plan but no fire response plan. Is there one, or is there a plan that there will never be a fire?” said Stroeve-Sawa.
Beda stated during his presentation that “the solar equipment is not flammable itself,” and “there would never be a fire started from the solar panels themselves.”
With the fire response plan, councillors on the SDA had viewed the plan and some had spoken with regional fire chief Brian Schafer.
“I spoke with Brian Schafer, the regional fire chief, this morning and I had asked him if he had any concern with the plan put forward. They worked together to create this plan and he said at this point there is no concern or issues. He is comfortable with what has been discussed. Whether there will be a fire or not, he can’t answer that but the plan they have talked about is acceptable to Brian Schafer at this time,” said Reeve Merrill Harris.
“When I reviewed it, on page seven and 15 of the emergency response procedure, it does have a procedure for on-site fires and larger fires,” added Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga, who also pointed out that information may not have been available in the previous package for the public.
Beda also further addressed the fire plan.
“The panels themselves are not flammable, obviously there is vegetation underneath the panels and there is a risk there. It is a risk that can be mitigated to an acceptable level if we maintain the vegetation appropriately. That is what I meant when I said there is no fire risk from the panels themselves, from the glass and silicon panels.”
Stroeve-Sawa also questioned if wetland setbacks would be followed by Aura.
“We would follow the 100-metre setback around all wetlands,” replied Beda.
Others brought forward concerns around the land which the solar facility would sit.
“Today, we all hear about the issue of climate change and carbon sequestration. Soil scientist now know that healthy grasslands are one of the highest land bases of functioning ecosystems that sequesters carbon. One soil scientist pointed out that healthy grasslands can sequester as much carbon out of the atmosphere as a tropical rainforest. That shocked me so I ask, why are we taking a healthy, functioning grassland out from sequestering carbon and covering it with solar panels?” asked Blake Holtman.
While many concerns were brought forward, Beda highlighted some benefits for ratepayers in the TID.
“In this case, we are excited TID is made up of a community of people. All of the ratepayers are going to benefit from this. TID will take this money to improve infrastructure and TID will use this to make your infrastructure cheaper for you. There is a direct benefit,” he said.
Those in attendance scoffed at the remark and stated clearly what they thought of the proposed project.
“I’m not hearing after all the protests and signatures signed, we aren’t getting anywhere. I don’t know how you guys don’t understand, we don’t want this,” said Twyla Valgardson.
While land impact and environmental concerns were all talking points by those in attendance, Beda stated they weren’t going in to leave the land in worse shape.
“Our intentions are to make the land better, we aren’t going to come in and make the land worse. I was shocked to hear there has been garbage sitting on the side of the road for four years so you are welcome to come out to the parking lot and see the truck full of garbage I have here today which is going up to Calgary and the recycling centre,” he said, and people in the audience confirmed there had been garbage in the area. “In the ditch alongside Township Road 10-4. I don’t know why it’s been sitting there for four years and no one has picked it up but it’s not there anymore.”
“My big concern is all of the water for our cattle is supplied by that underground aquifer that goes to our pond. A big thing for me would be contamination of the aquifer. I would like to see the geotechnical work done before it goes anywhere,” added Stroeve-Sawa.
She went on to share a few more concerns.
“You gave us the ingredients of the solar panels and I see it is polycrystalline silicon. I did some reading on that and that is where I have a huge concern. If it is exposed to water, that is hard to prevent if it is casually dumped if they don’t get to recycle it. The silicon releases hydrochloric acid which acidifies the soil and emits fumes. This actually happened in China,” she said. “If that underground aquifer was contaminated, that would jeopardize my whole business. If I don’t have water, I don’t have a business.”