Skip to main content

Tag: Alberta Utilities Commission

End-of-season dry agricultural field near Pincher Creek, Alberta, with granaries and mountains in the background.

Changes proposed to future solar farm near Pincher Creek

The company behind a large-scale solar project planned for construction northwest of Pincher Creek is looking to make changes to its original proposal and, once again, is looking for public input.

Last spring, Quebec-based Evolugen presented the idea of a four-section solar farm just east of the Pincher Creek Colony and north of Highway 507 during an open house held March 28.

The Sunrise Solar Project, it says, will consist of more than 210,000 bi-facial photovoltaic panels on close to 600 acres of privately owned land. Its aim: to generate enough solar electricity to power the equivalent of about 28,500 homes every year.

 

Ad for Shadowbar Shepherds Training in Pincher Creek

 

The original proposal, shown below, would have seen almost all of the project erected to the east of Range Road 303.  It’s had a rethink.

 

Map of area in the MD of Pincher Creek proposed by Evolugen in 2023 to become a solar farm.

 

A new configuration, shown below, plans to reposition the solar structures.

 

Map of area in the MD of Pincher Creek proposed by Evolugen in 2024 to become a solar farm.

 

Ad for Dragons Heart Quilt Shop in Pincher Creek

 

Last year, Evolugen spokesman Mike Peters told Shootin’ the Breeze he anticipated the Sunrise project could generate about $140 million in local spending, the bulk of which would pay for solar panelling and construction costs, and could support two full-time positions post-construction.

According to the latest information on the project’s webpage, evolugen.com/facilities/sunrise-solar-project, noise impact and solar glare assessments have now been completed and it’s entered Stage 3 in the interconnection process with AESO, the Alberta Electric System Operator.

Stage 3 is usually a 32-week process that determines a game plan for filing applications with the Alberta Utilities Commission.

With a new proposal on the table, Evolugen is holding an in-person public open house on Jan. 16, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Heritage Inn, unveiling the new design in detail. Like last year’s session, it’s open to both MD and town residents.

With files from Laurie Tritschler

 

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

 

Mike Peters, a white male with short brown and grey hair, moustache and beard, stands in front of information panels at an Evolugen open house in Pincher Creek,.

Sunrise solar project presented in Pincher Creek

A renewable energy company that plans to build a solar farm in the MD of Pincher Creek hosted community stakeholders Tuesday at an open house in town.

Evolugen, an affiliate of Canadian-based Brookfield Renewable Corp., invited residents within an 800-metre radius of the proposed project one week before the open house on March 28. Company representatives meanwhile had in-person conversations with residents within a 400-metre radius, as per provincial regulations, according to project spokesman Mike Peters.

The proposed Sunrise Solar Project has cleared initial regulatory hurdles at a time when renewable energy projects are proliferating across southwestern Alberta. Evolugen says the project will inject $140 million in local capital spending, but observers, including Rural Municipalities of Alberta president Paul McLauchlin, have cautioned that unrestrained development for renewables could disrupt local food-security networks.

The project aims to generate enough solar electricity to power the equivalent of about 28,500 homes every year, although Peters said the company intends to sell the energy to a corporate buyer through a power purchasing agreement. Evolugen hopes to deliver the juice by installing more than 210,000 photovoltaic cells on 575 acres of privately owned, cultivated land near Highway 507, northwest of town limits.

The landowners intend to raise sheep on-site if the project goes ahead, Peters said. Tristan Walker, energy project lead with the town and MD, said sheep are suited to solar projects because their constant grazing effectively mows grass without kicking up dust or rocks.

 

Pig roast at wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

 

Make hay while the sun is shining

Southwestern Alberta is ripe for solar energy due to its prevailing clear skies and its long summer days. The Pincher Creek area is relatively flat, allowing for solar farms on industrial scales.

Peters acknowledged that Sunrise would be a fairly big project, but “it’s certainly not the biggest” in the region.

Walker, who has no involvement with Sunrise or Evolugen, broadly concurred.

“In terms of solar farms, [Sunrise would be] a little bit smaller than a lot of projects that have gone through lately,” especially in Vulcan County to the northeast, he said.

Today’s photovoltaic cells generate power year-round, regardless of temperature, and can be adjusted to resist strong winds, Walker and Peters said.

Snow tends to melt off solar panels, especially because they’re designed to absorb light and heat. Photovoltaics inevitably reflect some glare, and Peters said Evolugen was working on a glare mitigation program for the benefit of local residents and motorists on Highway 507.

The company anticipates that Sunrise could generate about $140 million in local spending, the bulk of which would pay for solar panelling and construction costs, Peters said.

Evolugen would pay municipal taxes to the MD, while the farm would likely support two full-time positions post-construction, Peters said. Renewable energy isn’t subject to Alberta’s royalty scheme for non-renewable energy resources owned by the Crown.

 

 

Who allows the Sunrise? 

The RMA has consistently advocated for rural municipalities who say they want to be more involved in land-use decisions for all energy projects within their jurisdiction, prompting a conciliatory response from the Alberta Utilities Commission, which independently regulates the province’s utilities sector.

Food producers generally oppose fragmenting agricultural land for industrial development, but many producers welcome renewable energy projects on their land for the money the projects bring in.

“It’s obvious that utilizing [renewable] sources of energy is going to be an important part of our energy mix going forward,” the RMA’s McLaughlin told Shootin’ the Breeze shortly after a proposed wind farm near the Waterton Biosphere stirred controversy in Cardston County in mid February.

In determining whether or not utility projects are in the public interest, the AUC “makes land use decisions in rural Alberta, [without] considering incompatible land uses, food security, and other issues,” McLaughlin said.

Alberta Environment and Protected Areas signed off on Evolugen’s baseline environmental study late last year, ruling that Sunrise would pose a “low risk” to local wildlife and wildlife habitat, but provincial regulations don’t require assessments of potential disruptions to food security.

 

 

The AUC adjudicates projects on a case-by-case basis and has not yet ruled on the Sunrise farm. The regulator’s decisions “will prevail” when project approvals conflict with decisions by local governments, according to an FAQ page on the AUC’s website.

“The AUC encourages, appreciates and values municipal involvement and input in its regulatory decision-making process around energy projects and encourages their participation through its application rules,” a home-page bulletin states.

The proposed site falls within an urban fringe where the town and MD are obligated to consult each other on proposed developments, as per their intermunicipal development plan bylaws.

In order to be successful, project proponents would need MD council to rezone the Sunrise site for industrial use through a land-use bylaw amendment, according to Roland Milligan, the MD’s chief administrative officer. The amendment and subsequent permitting decisions would need to be referred to a joint IMDP committee, Milligan explained.

Solar energy doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, but unmitigated heat absorption through solar panelling can fry topsoil to the point where disturbed land can’t support agriculture.

Evolugen hopes to get AUC approval by year’s end.

Evolugen hasn’t scheduled any follow-up public consultations in Pincher Creek or the MD, but Peters said the company will continue to engage stakeholders.

 

 

Highway leading toward mountains with fields filled with wind turbines

Concerns raised over TransAlta’s Riplinger project

A proposed wind farm in Cardston County is facing opposition from a group of residents who say the project threatens the region’s sensitive environment and that their voices are being ignored as the project approaches the regulatory phase. 

The project, dubbed Riplinger by Calgary electricity wholesaler TransAlta, has meanwhile drawn the attention of Pincher Creek’s MD, where the company will likely seek to build a transmission line, according to an information package sent last December to county residents within 1.5 kilometres of the project’s tentative boundaries. 

The Riplinger farm would generate power from 46 wind turbines on 14,000 acres of private land roughly 30 kilometres southeast of Pincher Creek, the package states. James Mottershead, spokesman for TransAlta, later told Shootin’ the Breeze the project would involve 50 turbines. 

Mottershead said TransAlta “introduced” Riplinger to the MD in May 2022, though the company has not filed an application with the Alberta Utilities Commission, which has broad authority to approve utility projects. 

 

Shootin' the Breeze connection to more local stories

 

Many people who attended TransAlta’s public information session in Cardston County’s village of Hill Spring last Friday were asked to sign a petition circulated by Riplinger’s opponents. 

“This is the wrong place for a wind farm,” Bill Merry said as locals steadily filed into the village community centre.

Merry said he was frustrated that TransAlta “has done absolutely the bare minimum in communicating with the project’s stakeholders,” many of whom Merry said live beyond Riplinger’s 1.5-kilometre radius. 

“It’s like they’re trying to shove this under the rug,” he added. 

Angela Tabak, who lives in the nearby hamlet of Mountain View, said she’d been networking with residents within the project radius, who can intervene if they notify the AUC that they will be directly and adversely affected by Riplinger. 

Merry and Tabak said they hoped for a public hearing where TransAlta would be called to show its plans to protect migratory birds and other wildlife species, as well as the wetlands between the Waterton and Belly rivers. Fifty people had signed the petition roughly an hour after doors opened at the community centre. 

 

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

 

Speaking to MD councillors at chambers on Feb. 14, Reeve Rick Lemire held up TransAlta’s information package, which outlines a host of federal and provincial bodies that will enter the regulatory process ahead of the MD and Cardston County. 

 “This is where we fit into the hierarchy of approvals — when everything else is done,” he told council. 

The AUC can approve utility projects over the objections of local governments, according to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.

“The commission takes into account local governments’ positions on projects, both when they support a project and when they oppose a project. It is incredibly helpful to the commission for municipalities to participate in the AUC’s decision-making process,” AUC spokesman Geoff Scotton told the Breeze.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, takes a different view. 

The AUC “ignores municipal planning authority on a regular basis,” he said earlier this month. “They actually institutionally ignore it.”

 

Ad for Sara Hawthorn, Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass realtor

 

McLauchlin said renewable energy will play a critical role in southwestern Alberta’s economic future, adding that many food producers have welcomed projects like Riplinger because developers typically pay well to lease private land. That money spurs investment in ranches and farms, but McLauchlin warned that unchecked development on arable land would jeopardize regional food security. 

James Van Leeuwen, who heads a power company in Pincher Creek and sits on the Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative’s board of directors, said Riplinger would be “unremarkable” if it weren’t tentatively sited near the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, an environmentally sensitive area designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1979. 

“Waterton is an ecological gem,” he said.

Van Leeuwen participated in SASCI’s 2018 regional economic study, which was commissioned by Shell Canada, the Town of Pincher Creek and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, shortly after Shell announced it would probably shutter its Waterton gas plant (Shell Waterton) by 2030. 

Shell Waterton employed about 100 people when SASCI published its findings. Most lived in the town of Pincher Creek, while the plant generated about 20 per cent of tax revenue in the surrounding MD.

The study found that Shell Waterton generated 10 per cent of regional GDP, which renewable energy projects can’t match.

 

Ad for Aurora Eggert Coaching in Beaver Mines

 

Van Leeuwen noted that renewable energy projects might pose similar environmental impacts at the construction phase, especially because concrete and steel bear heavy carbon footprints. 

“But that’s not the point,” Van Leeuwen said. “What we’re looking at are the impacts over the lifetime of the infrastructure and for renewable energy.… We’re displacing a high-impact energy source with a low environmental impact energy source.”

Speaking at last Friday’s info session in Hill Spring, James Mottershead said TransAlta hasn’t finalized plans for Riplinger, including the proposed transmission line. 

Ryan Desrosiers, an environmental consultant retained by TransAlta, said the line would probably come through the MD. Transmission lines are regulated by the AUC in conjunction with the Alberta Electric System Operator, according to Geoff Scotton. 

Desrosiers said TransAlta hopes to host an information session in the MD sometime this spring. 

TransAlta hopes to submit its application for Riplinger to the AUC by June, according to Mottershead.

 

 

 

 

 

More Local Stories

 

 

 

 

Laurie Tritschler author information. Photo of red-haired man with moustache, beard and glasses, wearing a light blue shirt in a circle over a purple accent line with text details and connection links

UCP promises extensive affordability measures heading into winter

“Work is underway to get the system set up and running, and we will provide a more detailed update before the holidays if this legislation is passed,” Affordability and Utilities Minister Matt Jones told reporters at an Edmonton press conference.

Reporters grilled Finance Minister Travis Toews about the timing of monthly payments to seniors, families with children, and people receiving disability benefits, now set to end one month after May’s provincial election.

Toews said the government’s massive budgetary surplus allows the UCP to help Albertans. The government will reassess Albertans’ needs after the six-month time frame is up, he added. 

“The average Alberta household with or without children, with or without seniors, or vulnerable Albertans will receive up to an estimated $900 in broad-based relief alone,’’ Jones told reporters last Wednesday.

Jones made a similar statement in a Nov. 29 tweet, in which he quoted himself telling the Calgary Herald that “The broad-based relief alone will provide the vast majority of households — with or without children, with or without seniors — with up to $900 or more in relief.”

 

 

Jones then reiterated commitments Smith made when she publicly unveiled the plan on Nov. 22. The plan promises $100 payments to seniors and people receiving Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Persons with Developmental Disability (PDD) payments for six months every month for the first half of 2023. Families that make less than $180,000 per year will get the same payments for every child. The income eligibility would see monthly payments go to 80 per cent of families in the province, Jones said. 

 Albertans already receiving core support programs like seniors benefits, AISH, PDD and income support wouldn’t have to apply for the plan’s monthly payments. Families with children would have to apply through a government website, where they would be asked to provide income information.

The payments will be non-taxable, Jones said.

The government will boost AISH, PDD, income support and seniors benefits by six per cent starting in the new year, which Jones said would match inflation for 2022.

 

 

The plan would defer a portion of winter electricity bills for consumers on regulated rate option plans for the first three months of the new year. Charges above 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour will be spread over monthly bills starting in April. This includes municipalities and energy suppliers not covered by the Alberta Utilities Commission. 

Seventy-five-dollar rebates will go to 1.9 million electricity consumers in January and February, with $25 rebates in March and April. Credits will carry over where electricity bills come in below $75, Jones said. 

The government will halt the province’s 13 per cent fuel tax on gas and diesel from January through the end of June, costing the treasury an estimated $600 million in lost revenue. The plan also increases provincial income tax exemptions and provincial tax brackets by just under 2.5 per cent. 

“I don’t have information on timing,” Jones said when pressed on the rollout for the proposed regulatory framework. The minister said he hoped to see permanent “natural gas price protection” starting in the new year, but again balked at providing a hard timeline.