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County council discusses results of solar survey

Posted on October 1, 2019 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Lethbridge County will be considering the results of a recent survey for future solar collection facilities.

During their regular Sept. 19 meeting, Lethbridge County council was presented with the results of their Solar Collection Facilities Survey.

The survey, which was ongoing during the summer, aimed to engage residents regarding solar collection facilities within the county.

It was advertised in the County Connection on July 30, on social media and the county’s website. People could submit either a paper copy of the survey or complete the survey online.

The results of the survey will be used in part to inform the proposed amendments to the Lethbridge County Municipal Development Plan and Land Use Bylaw, alongside other discussions administration had with county council.

By the Aug. 23 deadline, the county had received a total of 49 responses.

Stressing that only 49 people had responded to the survey, the county’s senior planner Hilary Janzen said that there were strong feelings within the survey over not putting a solar collection facility on prime agricultural land.

“There were some who felt it did not matter if it was on irrigated land or not, but the majority did not want to see agriculture land taken out of production,” said Janzen.

For the first two questions, 71.4 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed with the statement ‘Solar farms may be located on lands considered high quality agricultural land’, and 37.5 per cent strongly agreed with, and 33.3 per cent agreed with the statement ‘Solar farms may be located on lands considered poor quality agricultural land’.

Additionally, 42.9 per cent agreed with the statement ‘Solar farms may be located in industrial and commercial areas’, and 59.2 per cent strongly disagreed with the statement ‘Solar farms may be located on all types of agricultural lands (irrigated, non-irrigated, grassland)’.

89.6 per cent of respondents replied yes to the statement ‘Solar collection facilities should maintain minimum setbacks to residences (currently 300m from individual residences and 750m from Group Country Residential, towns, villages, and hamlets)’, and to the phrase ‘Solar collection facilities should only be located on lands…’, 62.5 per cent said they should be less than 80 acres in size.

To the question ‘Should there be a cap on the total area of land within the County dedicated to solar farms?’, 70.8 per cent said there should be a cap of one per cent of agricultural land. Janzen noted it doesn’t sound like a lot, but the county has “a lot of acres”, so there would still be a large amount of development allowed.

For the last question, 67.4 per cent indicated that they do not believe that solar farms will increase the economic diversity for Lethbridge County.

Respondents were also allowed to add additional comments. Noting those responses were “all over the map”, Janzen said that people wanted to support renewable energy, but they didn’t want it on agricultural land, and some had noted that solar facilities were being dismantled in some jurisdictions or shutting down, which was “valid, but maybe not looking into the context of why that is happening”.

Keeping farming land for farming was another major comment, which Janzen said the county, province, and South Saskatchewan Regional Plan had identified as valuable land.

“With regards to council’s direction that was provided to us at the end of June, is that we will bring forward in the beginning of November a proposed amendment to the Municipal Development Plan to cap the number of acres for solar collection facilities,” said Janzen.

“And that way, once you reach that cap, it doesn’t  mean that oh, the buck stops here, it just means that we just need to say okay, are we going to go forward, what’s the next step? So it’s just another conversation with council.”

The county would also need to remove parcel-size standards from the Land Use Bylaw, and require all solar collection facilities be designated as direct control.

Coun. Klass Vander Veen, noting the situation with the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), where they had approved the ‘Coaldale Solar Project’, allowing the project to move forward despite the county not approving the necessary Land Use Bylaw amendments, asked how much affect these changes would have. Janzen said it had more to do with how they want to move forward in the future.

“We sent back the letter, as requested by council, to the Alberta Utilities Commission, and received back that small novel in regards to why they made that decision they did. But at the same time we have to, in my personal perspective from an administrative (role), we need to take control of what it is,” said Janzen.

“We want to allow for things to happen, but we want to have some control, and I think, if we keep pursuing the province to, and the Alberta Utilities Commission, saying we’re not completely satisfied with what happened, and we’ve heard other municipalities are in the same boat — with regards to too many wind projects being approved in the M.D. of Pincher Creek, let’s say. Other municipalities are going to start rising up to say we want to be heard, we are  a stakeholder to help determine land uses and what’s appropriate for our municipalities. While it might seem like we’re being squashed and vetoed, I think by doing some, by doing these things, we’re getting the message out there. By making changes to our bylaw, we’re showing we want to be working with people,  but still within the perimeters that the county wants to do business.”

Coun. Morris Zeinstra  thanked the 49 people who responded and expressed their concerns, but wondered how the county can place an emphasis on the survey when such a small portion of their more than 10,000 residents responded.

“It’s beautiful that these 49 people did step up to the plate, but to me, this type of survey is flawed,” said Zeinstra.

County CAO Ann Mitchell said the survey was just a “small piece of information” and that is how it should be considered. She said that even though they got the response they did from the AUC, she believed they took notice of their concerns and it should be “a lobbying point moving forward”.

County council passed a motion to receive the plan as information.

Afterwards, county council performed the third readings for Bylaw 19-031 Land Use Bylaw Amendment Rural Agriculture to Direct Control (Acestes Ventures Ltd) for NW 7-10-19-W4 and for Bylaw 19-032 Land Use Bylaw Amendment Rural Agriculture to Direct Control (Acestes Ventures Ltd) for SE 12-10-20-W4. First and second readings were previously given during their regular Sept. 5 meeting. As the AUC  has allowed the project to proceed, the county did not need to hold public hearings for the bylaws.

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