Concerns expressed over solar farms

By Rob Vogt – Local Press Writer
A ratepayer in the Municipal District of Willow Creek is asking the M.D. council to address a variety of concerns as a second solar-energy project is set to be reviewed by the provincial government east of Granum.
At its Oct. 12 meeting, Ron Lamb appeared as a delegation, to raise some concerns.
He explained he farms east of Granum.
About four or five years ago, he had to answer questions by the M.D. about a solar array he built on his farm.
“I was asked some pointed questions and justifiably so,” he said.
Lamb said he does not see the same questions being asked of the solar farms coming in, realizing a lot of the issue is provincial not municipal jurisdiction.
He added he is not trying to be NIMBY, that is “Not In My Back Yard” either.
However, he has concerns, starting with putting solar panels on prime agricultural lands.
“It makes no sense at all,” he said.
He said he is there representing the people who live in the area of the proposed solar farms, but who don’t get any of the benefits such as financial compensation.
Lamb said he wanted to put forth some positive ideas.
Off the top, he said, the federal government is putting forth the idea of agricultural forestry. That is, planting trees to capture carbon and mitigate climate change.
Lamb suggested the M.D. insist industry adopt agricultural forestry, and plant a perimeter of trees around the solar panels.
After all, Lamb said, the solar companies say they want to fight climate change.
“I can’t see why they’d fight a perimeter of trees,” he said.
Lamb turned his attention to culverts installed by a solar farm and how they have drained every pond and pot hole.
He said a ratepayer cannot do that so why should a solar farm be able to? Besides, would solar fars not support ponds which in turn support wildlife.
Haul routes also need to be established, for construction of the solar farms, which would help local land owners in their own planning.
He compared this to Calgary where a driver can go down the Deerfoot but only get off at a few spots, and if going into a place with residences has to slow down to 30 kilometres per hour.
Lamb recommended building the parking lot for construction of the solar farm by Highway 520, and busing the staff to the rest of the development.
Another issue is hours of operation. Lamb said they don’t need diesel motors running at 4 a.m.
He also pointed to oil wells in the area that are not abandoned, but not producing, so the sites are not cleaned up. He worried this may occur with solar farms.
“I’m fearful that’s going to end up in the ratepayers’ lap,” Lamb said.
Going forward, he asked, when a solar farm is no longer economical at what point is it dumped in the lap of the ratepayers?
“Are you prepared?” he asked. “How do we deal with that.”
Coun. Earl Hemmaway said the applicant had to plan for drainage, and talk to neighbouring land owners if water goes on their land.
As for parking, he told the applicant to park in town and bus everyone out.
Hemmaway agreed with Lamb on hours of operation, and that the M.D. tries to keep development off good agricultural land but the provincial government overrules the M.D.
In fact, he said, council talked to the MLA that morning about just that.
“I totally agree with what you’re saying,” Hemmaway said.
Reeve Maryanne Sandberg said there is a resolution being put forth to the Foothills-Little Bow association of rural Southern Alberta municipalities about how to clean up all renewable energy after it is abandoned.
She said the M.D. asked the same questions Lamb has during the solar farm approval process.
She said everything boils down to enforcement.
“All these things you’ve addressed we’re very concerned about,” she said.
Sandberg added no application has yet come to the M.D. about the next Granum-area solar project.
Instead they go to the Alberta Utilities Commission, where they get permission.
She pointed to one solar farm, by Stavely, where the M.D. refused but their decision was overturned and the Alberta Utilities Commission approved it.