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Red Deer County seeks more information on solar farm lobbying proposal

Rocky View County wants to lobby for a bigger say for municipalities in solar farm approval

Red Deer County councillors want to hear more before making a decision on a Rocky View County request to help pay for a consultant to lobby for a bigger municipal say in solar farm approvals.

Rural municipal leaders are getting a lot of calls from residents worried about the impact on farmland from a growing number of large solar farm proposals.

Councillors with Rocky View County, which surrounds Calgary on three sides, recently voted to spend $10,000 to hire a third-party consultant to lobby the provincial government to give municipalities a bigger say in solar farm project approvals. Requests have been sent to other municipalities to invest a similar amount into the lobbying initiative.

Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) is responsible for approving renewable energy proposals. While the regulator says it takes municipal input into account AUC is not required to abide by municipal plans or land use bylaws.

Red Deer County assistant county manager Dave Dittrick said administration was concerned that Rocky View’s initiative may duplicate efforts by Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), which has listed the issue as a priority.

Mayor Jim Wood said while municipalities’ role in solar farm approvals was a “very important topic” he was leery of spending money on something that the RMA is already working on.

“I’d hate to spend $10,000 and find out it was needlessly spent and we find out there was someone else already doing the job,” said Wood.

In Coun. Brent Ramsay’s division a 170-megawatt solar farm has been proposed for a 930-acre site southwest of Sylvan Lake.

While a project of that size will have an impact on the agriculture community, he wants to know more specifics about Rocky View’s proposal before making a decision on funding.

“I do have some concern with this without seeing a full plan,” he said, adding that hiring a consultant might be better left as an RMA initiative supported by all its members.

Coun. Connie Huelsman feared that the county might be approached to provide increasing amounts of funding if not enough other municipalities signed on to Rocky View’s initiative.

A report from staff says Rocky View reached out to other central Alberta municipalities. Lacombe and Ponoka Counties opted to deny the request and Kneehill, Mountain View and Stettler county councils plan to discuss it in the next two weeks.

Solar farms and their impact on the rural landscape and how they will be cleaned up after their lifespan has expired are becoming an increasing concern, said Coun. Lonny Kennett.

“It’s important to work with our neighbouring counties as well. It’s an issue that’s affecting us all.”

Coun. Christine Moore initially proposed a motion in favour of providing up to $10,000 for Rocky View’s initiative. However, after further council debate, she retracted that motion and proposed that council defer a decision until it has received more information on exactly what Rocky View aims to achieve.

Council voted 6-1 in favour with Wood voting against.

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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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