Crowd learns more about cost, benefit of alternative energy

By Rob Vogt
There are a lot of concerns about solar and wind alternative energy projects and they may not be producing as much electricity as proponents claim.
Those were some of the themes of a table talk sponsored by the Alberta Prosperity Project at the Claresholm Social Centre on Wednesday, Feb. 7, that attracted more than 40 people in attendance.
Gail Fjordbotten, a retired agricultural producer east of Granum, opened the evening with a discussion on what he has learned about solar farms and the concerns he has.
“We’re not against solar projects,” he said. “It’s just where they’re being put.”
A solar plant covering 2,400 acres is north of where Fjordbotten lives.
“This is some of the highest producing land we have in the M.D. of Willow Creek,” he said.
Fjordbotten stressed the M.D. has been excellent in listening to landowner concerns, pointing out the municipality has no say in approvals. That is done by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
Fjordbotten and his wife Linda wanted to learn more about solar projects in the province, so they visited a few.
There is one by Brooks built in a slough, so it is not taking good land out of production.
Conversely, there is one at Travers Dam Fjordbotten described as “an absolute disaster.” The ditches are filled with soil six feet high that has drifted off the land covered by the solar panels.
He asked how can a solar project like Granum be stopped.
Any concerned party needs to get what is called standing in the project. That means being located within a half mile of the project.
Fjordbotten formed a group that got standing in the project north of his place.
However, two other complaints about the project were withdrawn and the Alberta Utilities Commission was not going to have a public hearing on the project.
Then he heard about the Granum solar project that will cover 1,800 acres.
“You just can’t reclaim that soil,” Fjordbotten said.
Once more his group had standing granted.
He was also invited to go to Trochu in Kneehill County to speak. There, landowners wanted to break their contracts with the developers. After the meeting, landowners and councillors shared stories.
In one case, topsoil was stripped off. It was supposed to be stored and used in reclamation but, instead, the developer sold it.
Fjordbotten said these contracts can’t be broken, and people need to consult an environmental lawyer.
He noted he looked forward to the Alberta Utilities Commission hearing, but was warned by Kneehill County the developers will shred all opponents.
So Fjordbotten hired a lawyer, and was able to get some changes made.
Yet, he still has several concerns.
The 4,200 acres are on top of the Carmangay channel, an underground aquifer.
The solar farm will install 280,000 steel pilings in the ground.
There is 15 to 25 feet of sandstone layers that protect the aquifer.
Fjordbotten consulted a hydrologist who said that sandstone layer will fracture, contaminants will settle, and eventually the aquifer will be plugged.
The solar project will also use 40 kilometres of chain-link fence around its perimeter.
Fjordbotten pointed out that will stop the migratory patterns of deer and other animals.
At one point, he encountered two university students tasked with doing an environmental impact assessment. He pointed out some issues surrounding local wildlife and other concerns.
Although they told him they would re-write their report, nothing he said was actually included. Fjordbotten said the developers are also supposed to reclaim the soil, but they don’t have to pull out the pilings from the ground when the project has run its course. Instead, they plan to dig down three feet, cut them off, and put soil over top.
“I haven’t found one thing in this project worth endorsing,” he said.
He went on to say birds mistakenly land on solar panels. thinking it’s water, and are hurt or killed.
The panels also do not absorb heat but reflect it back, creating a three-degree increase in ambient temperature.
“Are we helping climate change or accelerating it?” Fjordbotten asked.
He also pointed to the vast amount of solar panel waste that will be created. He cited the Harvard Business Review who projected 78 million tons of waste by the year 2050, noting it could be 2.5 times more than that.
After four months of talking to lawyers, Fjordbotten’s group signed off on the project because they actually got what they asked for within it.
In the process, he regretted, they hung the M.D. out to dry.
“They are looking after our interests,” Fjordbotten said of the M.D., but they have no say in the approvals. “It’s criminal how this is structured.”
He noted two percent of Canada is arable land, and it is losing 1,200 acres of that every day.
“This does affect everybody in this room,” Fjordbotten said.
“You wonder why food prices are going up,” he later added.
He also noted he does not like to criticize without offering an alternative. He suggested all the large parking lots at big-box stores in the cities be covered with solar panels. So could the median of a highway between Calgary and Banff.
Norm Elford, a retired businessman who lives east of Claresholm near a solar project, said he watched construction of the facility for a year, counting more than 80 vehicles a day passing by.
“It is really disruptive,” he said.
However, the main goal of his talk was to speak about a website that reports how much electricity is actually produced by these alternative energy projects.
The website is (no dashes or spaces)
Elford said that, after looking at the output of these facilities, it is hard to see why the federal government is pushing for a move completely to renewable energy.
His biggest issue is taking good land out of production for these solar projects.
More than that, he continued, they are not as green and recyclable as proponents claim.
For instance, each windmill requires 2,000 to 2,500 litres of synthetic oil to be changed out every year.
The biggest issue may be that proponents say wind will be blowing or the sun will be shining somewhere in Alberta to generate electricity.
Elford said this is not the case. He has observed many days when these projects generate no electricity whatsoever.
“If we think we’re going to heat our homes with renewable energy I’m kind of concerned,” he said.
The third speaker was Kyle Kohut, an agricultural producer from the Nanton area.
He talked about government overreach, particularly the federal government goal of reducing fertilizer-related emissions by 30 per cent.
Kohut said the announcement came out of nowhere, and has no basis in science.
Producers know how much fertilizer it takes. They also identify trends and guidelines through soil sampling, till the ground as little as possible to conserve organic matter, and conserve moisture.
Farmers make their money by being efficient, and using the right amount of fertilizer.
“If you look after (the soil), it will look after you,” Kohut said.
He had one message for government.
“Just leave us alone,” he said.

From left are Norm Elford, Gail Fjordbotten, and Kyle Kohut who gave a talk on alternative energy projects and government overreach at the Claresholm Social Centre on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Photo by Rob Vogt