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New rules for commercial solar facilities in Lethbridge County

Posted on December 10, 2019 by Sunny South News

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Lethbridge County has approved new guidelines for commercial solar collection facilities.

During their regular Dec. 5 meeting, Lethbridge County council hosted a public hearing for two bylaws pertaining to commercial solar collection facilities in the county.

Bylaw 19-043 – an Amendment to the Lethbridge County Municipal Development Plan – and Bylaw 19-044 – Amendment to the Lethbridge County Land Use Bylaw – would target future proposed commercial solar farms in the county.

Proposed amendments to the Municipal Development Plan include requiring that all commercial solar collection facilities be redesignated to the Direct Control land zoning; imposing a cap on the amount of land used for commercial solar collection facilities to 2,500 hectares, or one per cent of lands in the Rural Agriculture District; and adding siting and suitability criteria for council’s consideration when hearing an application to redesignate a land zoning to Direct Control.

Proposed amendments to the Land Use Bylaw include removing the use of commercial solar collection facilities from the Rural Agriculture District land zoning and requiring all commercial solar collection facilities be redesignated to Direct Control land zoning; remove the siting criteria from the Land Use bylaw and relocate it to the Municipal Development Plan; updating the conditions of approval for the development authority; and removing the requirement for notification and public consultation of a development permit.

Hilary Janzen, senior planner for the county, said she got a call from one landowner who asked how the amendments would affect his land and had provided him with with information on the parameters. While she did hear that other people had “noted that there was amendments to the plan”, she didn’t hear any particular comments on it.

When asked by coun. Klaas Vander Veen how many solar collection facilities were in the county, Janzen said there was currently no commercial facilities, although two have been approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission and would probably be starting in the spring, and there was a number of individual solar farms, where people have them on their roofs or for their irrigation system, which are allowed under the county’s bylaws.

Reeve Lorne Hickey asked for clarification on the difference between personal and commercial solar collection facilities, using the county’s office building as an example, as it produces power for the building but also sells some of it back to the energy grid.

Janzen replied the county’s solar panels would be private, as “the main use is to offset the cost of the building and the building’s energy use”.

“It becomes commercial when the sole means for the project is for commercial, is tying into the grid,” said Janzen.

“It’s not being used on a private property for their private use, and then the excess would be sold to the grid. It’s solely for that energy is going into the power system.”

In response to a question about caps, Janzen said one of the reason they’re proposing these amendments is because someone could want to do a large development like they have in Vulcan, where it’s looking at 600 too 1,800 acres of land, and by having it zoned as Direct Control and by coming to council with it, it would be a more open and transparent process, and allow for more flexibility.

Coun. Tory Campbell asked how the amendments look compared to the neighbouring municipalities.

“This actually would be fairly similar compared to what some of our neighbours have been using,” said Janzen.

“The M.D. of Willow Creek has a similar process. Lots of municipalities require that their commercial solar and wind facilities be rezoned to, say, a Commercial/Industrial district or Direct Control. So this wouldn’t come as a surprise to an energy company coming in, us saying you have to go through a rezoning process, and this is what the steps are.

“When we originally did the bylaw in 2015 with the solar, there was a lot of unknowns about what it meant and we had so much good agricultural land, there were some, we just wanted kind of be a little bit protectionist of it, and now it’s like, well maybe we just need to have that open conversation when we have those applications coming in.”

Hickey said he liked the idea of a cap, limiting the amount of irrigated land used for a solar facility.

Janzen noted that they could set a number of percentage of acres they they would want to have, and it reaches it than it will trigger a review, and they could add that wording in at second reading.

“When we approaching that cap, that would be when I bring it back to count saying we’ve reached this cap or we’re close to reaching this cap, and administration would do a review and we would bring it back,” said Janzen.

When asked, no one in the gallery spoke against or for the bylaws during the public hearing.

After the public hearing, Coun. Steve Campbell asked if he proposed an amendment on a cap on irrigated land, if it would be added in the cap-related parts of Bylaw 19-043.

Janzen said they would perform the readings as amended, and she would include it in all of the pertinent parts of the MDP.

Council passed motions to perform second and third readings of Bylaw 19-043, as amended with the cap of 500 hectares on lands with irrigation or irrigation rights, in split 6-1 votes for each reading, with Vander Veen voting against each reading.

Council unanimously passed motions to perform second and third readings of Bylaw-044.

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