By Heather Cameron
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
During the April 25 M.D. of Taber Council meeting, Michael Stafford from Coda Land, Jim Ross from Sage Stone and Janet Bowman from West Environmental gave a presentation to the M.D. Council.
“We started Echo Renewables back in about 2019 to start developing the Hays project,” Ross said. “We started as a smaller project phase one and 24 megawatts AC and then eventually expanded it into two different more phases over about 1300 acres on Bow River Irrigation District land. About a year ago, we partnered with Proteus who took over the project and we’ve been working with them ever since to complete the development of it.”
Currently, Stafford says, what Proteus Power proposes is a three-phase approach to the project with Phase One and Phase Three being the first to be constructed, followed by Phase Two. Phase One, Stafford said, is up to 24 megawatts; Phase Three is 21 megawatts; and Phase Two would be up to 185 megawatts.
“Phase One and Phase Three would be connected to the existing distribution system so the wires are already right there no new upgrades will be required,” Stafford said. “And then Phase Two would be connected to the existing transmission lines about a mile north of the proposed project area. Phase One and Phase Three would be connected to the existing distribution system; the wires are already right there, so no new upgrades would be required. Then, Phase Two would be connected to the existing transmission lines about a mile north of the proposed project area.”
Following the presentation, Stafford opened the floor to questions from Council, acknowledging that they had questions about the proposed development. There was talk about whether or not AP approval was received, but Stafford said that AP issues a referral letter, and that letter was currently in the review process and that Proteus Power was expecting IRS information requests by about the end of the month.
One of the major concerns that Council expressed was that a previous project got canceled because of proximity to the wildlife in the area. The concerns were discussed thoroughly, as there were deep concerns that the area was a natural breeding ground for pelicans.
Bowman confirmed that the site in question was classified as an important bird area by Bird Life Canada, but the solar directive only requires a one-kilometer setback if it’s a named water body.
“It has to be named in the hydrology layer from Natural Resources Canada,” Bowman said. “We’ve double checked that database and also the Fisheries and Wildlife management information system database and it’s not a named water body in either of those. And then the other one-kilometer setback is if it’s a wetland-based important bird area and Bird Life Canada classifies it as a reservoir. I think that is what they consider the habitat, a freshwater lake; so there’s no wetlands in the reservoir so it’s not a wetland.”
The area, Bowman said, is based outside of Frank Lake, which is wetlands. Bowman argued that while Frank Lake is wetlands, having deciduous woods, shrubs, native grasslands, freshwater lake, freshwater marsh, arable and cultivated lands, and pasture land, the project land is outside of that boundary.
Council and Bowman briefly debated about the boundary before Bowman stated that the difference between the current project and Foothills Solar Development was that project is proposed to be inside of the IBA boundary.
Council them asked Proteus Power what their process to get approval was: were they going to seek municipality approvals through subdivisions or through the AUC first?
“What we typically do is basically, we’re waiting for the AEP referral report right now with this,” Stafford said. “Jan (Janet Bowman) said they’ll provide a risk rating. It’s a project that will comprise of the submission to the AUC. If or when the approval is received, we would be approaching the community for a development permit.”
When Council expressed concern about how the development permit application would be funded and about a reclamation plan, Bowman emphasized to Council that there is currently a draft CNR plan and reclamation plan that will get finalized and submitted with the AUC application.
“Right now, it’s low impact development so there’s no plan to disturb the land, it’ll be leave the vegetation in place, add additional vegetation, such as native grasses, specifically slender wheatgrass, if required,” Bowman stated.
Only dry or frozen soils are planned for use, Bowman said, so there’s no disturbance or compaction and then the dirt will be filled with native seeds to provide opportunity for native grasslands to grow under the panels.
For decommissioning, Bowman said, infrastructure gets removed, so the piles, the cables underground, the panels, the inverter pads, the buildings, the roads, and everything else gets removed unless, however, the landowners want the roads left alone.
“Those would be the only places where topsoil is stripped and then it’ll be revegetated based upon the landowner’s desires, so if they want to put it back, it’ll go back in, then it’s cultivated and cropped by the landowner,” Bowman said. “The goal of the Conservation and Reclamation plan is to conserve the soil, prevent compaction, rebuild the health with the native plant cover, and prevent erosion under the panels and during construction.”
The cost of reclamation for solar projects, Stafford said, is quite minimal, as the salvage value of all the steel comes out to a reclamation amount and that money is put aside to ensure that there is capital at the end of life to have that project reclaimed. All of the regulations will be followed, Stafford said, to ensure that after the project’s decommissioning, the land is similar as it was prior to the project being built.
Council inquired as to the projected salvage value of the infrastructure, but Proteus Power said that information will have to be determined through a salvage study, which will be done periodically throughout the project’s life. Council also inquired as to the cost of the bond for the reclamation of the facility when it is completed and Proteus Power stated that the cost, which was required to be stated as part of the lease, was a few hundred thousand dollars. Another question Council had was regarding a couple of neighbouring landowners claiming they weren’t notified about the project prior to the open house that was held in Hays and they were concerned about how the project would impact them and their lands.
“Now, we have consulted with the neighbouring landowners that you’ve discussed and the Bow River Irrigation District has committed to working directly with those landowners on mitigation measures so to reduce mitigation measures regarding changing the layout,” Stafford said. “There hasn’t been any commitment to change the layout, but they have committed to work with those specific landowners in mitigation factors, whether it be vegetative screening or other forms of mitigation. They’ll be working directly together to find a suitable outcome.”
Council was also concerned about what proposals Proteus Power had for the security of the site and Stafford said that security proposals included a six-foot, chain link fence surrounding the whole project area along with security cameras and lighting.
Wildlife was another concern for Council, specifically whether or not Proteus Power had any mitigation plans in place for the effects that the project would have on wildlife traffic patterns. Proteus Power said that wildlife would be able to travel around the facility and there would be 10 cm spacing for smaller wildlife, but there was no entrapment anticipated.
“Once everything is finalized and we’ve got all the layout, the design, and the AEP referral report back, and application, we’ll come back to you guys with more specific answers,” Stafford said. “We’re still in the development phase getting answers to some of these questions.”
Ultimately, Council voted to receive the Proteus Power presentation for information.
For more specifics about the Hays Project, visit https://proteus-power.com/alberta-solar-3/.