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Public gets look at Sylvan Lake solar power project

Kiwetinohk Energy showcases proposal for 170-megawatt solar facility at open house
Kiwetinohk Energy Corp. (KEC) hopes to build its solar project on about 930 acres of private land, about six km southwest of Sylvan Lake. (File photo by The Associated Press)

A Calgary-based energy company proposing a 170-megawatt solar project near Sylvan Lake fielded questions and concerns at an open house on Thursday.

Kiwetinohk Energy Corp. (KEC) hopes to build its solar project on about 930 acres of private land, about six km southwest of Sylvan Lake. The $320-million solar farm and its 386,000 panels will be linked to the province’s electrical grid by a 138-kilovolt transmission line.

An open house at Sylvan Lake’s NexSource Centre drew about 50 people, said Red Deer County Coun. Brent Ramsay, who attended the gathering.

Concerns have been raised among rural residents about the potential loss of so much valuable farmland and how landowners can be assured the solar sites will be cleaned up at the end of their lifespan.

“Honestly, there weren’t a lot of new concerns coming out. I think the moratorium has quieted things down,” said Ramsay.

“I was expecting a lot more people (who are) naysayers showing up. But it seemed to be pretty mild, to be honest.”

Ramsay said the Alberta government’s announcement earlier this month of a six-month moratorium on wind and solar projects while Alberta Utilities Commission conducts a review has left the future of renewable energy projects in limbo for now.

Much was made of the opportunity for agrivoltaics, which aims to allow land around solar panel installations to be used for agriculture, such as for pasturing livestock.

Ramsay said he gets the sense many residents are on the fence about the usefulness of mixing solar power and agriculture until they have seen examples of it working successfully.

“It was promising to see some of the agrivoltaics stuff. But I still think it’s still a concern when you’re talking about taking seven quarters of land essentially out of production and we don’t really know what will work yet.

“In my mind, it’s better to test it on a smaller scale. If they started with a smaller project and got some agriculture established and seen what was working and what wasn’t and then going to full build-out.”

Kiwetinohk vice-president of finance Craig Parsons said when the moratorium was announced the company was still in the midst of public consultation and a few months away from submitting its application. The public outreach will continue as the government conducts its renewable energy review.

“We want to be a long-term participant in the community and they are a key stakeholder. We all have to live and work together. (That) is a primary driver for the company.”

Parsons said the company recognizes the concerns raised by rural residents and communities are valid and justified “and we feel it’s appropriate that the government deals with them.”

The company would like to continue working its way through the regulatory process while the review is underway. Any regulatory changes that come out of the review could be dealt with in time.

“We’re well out front of the issues and we’re open and actively engaged with the government and talking about these issues. We look forward to any feedback the government comes back with via the AUC.”

Kiwetinohk senior vice-president of power Jim Floyd was among a number of company representatives at the open house to answer questions.

It appeared that many of those who came out were just curious as to what the company was proposing, said Floyd.

“There were a few people for and a few people against. Most, I think, were just curious and asking questions.”

Floyd said the company is invested in using the land for solar and agriculture.

“I think there is a real opportunity to do solar and combine that with agricultural activity and sort of take two crops off the same field,” he said.

“There’s a lot of research being done and an awful lot of work being done.”

The company will ensure it has the funds to clean up when the solar facility is no longer used, one of the issues cited by the government as requiring further review.

Kiwetinohk will have an independent engineer review reclamation costs every five years and a fund will be created to ensure there is enough money to cover the cost of cleaning up and restoring the land fully to its former use.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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