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MPC members have opposing views on solar project next to Stavely

LAWRENCE GLEASON, GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
A proposed solar farm one mile east of Stavely resulted in discussion Aug. 21 at an MD of Willow Creek Municipal Planning Commission meeting.
MPC members struggled with the dilemma of approving a solar farm while knowing the municipal district’s mandate is to preserve agricultural farmland.
MPC members approved the application to subdivide 160 acres agricultural title into two parcels, of about 94 and 65 acres.
The 94.82 acre portion was recently rezoned rural industrial for the proposed solar project.
The land owner is Mayland Farms. The agent is Acestes Power of Calgary.
The subdivision application came to the MPC through the Oldman Regional Services Commission, processing it for the MD of Willow Creek.
Reeve Maryanne Sandberg began the discussion.
“How do we preserve Class 1 and Class 2 soils?” Sandberg asked. “Is there any way to make our voice known?”
Mike Burla, senior planner with the Oldman Regional Services Commission, recommended Sandberg refer to the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan for answers.
The South Saskatchewan Regional Plan is a governmental guide for managing natural assets.
The plan covers almost 65 per cent of Canada’s irrigated lands, and 83,764 square kilometres total, or about 12.6 per cent of Alberta.
Within it are 15 municipal districts, one specialized municipality, two improvement districts, five cities, Calgary, Okotoks, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Brooks, 29 towns, 23 villages, two summer villages and seven First Nations.
About 44 per cent of the provincial population live within the region, about 1.8-million people, according to the provincial government Web site.
“There are some very strong policies within that plan,” Burla said.
MD of Willow Creek chief administrative officer Cynthia Vizzutti agreed, saying the Alberta Energy Regulator would have to follow the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan.
“This plan is one of the few things standing in the way of the loss of good farmland,” said Vizzutti, adding the South Saskatchewan plan could also be used as the basis for intervenor status when such projects come up before an energy regulator.
The MPC members first learned of this proposed solar farm project for east of Stavely in February of this year.
It was introduced to MPC by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUB), with the planned objective to construct and operate an 8.5-megawatt solar power plant about one mile east of Stavely.
At that February meeting, two MPC members, Ian Sundquist and Evan Berger, expressed their concern over the loss of what they viewed as prime agricultural land to this proposed solar project.
MPC member Glen Alm on Aug. 21 presented a different view, that a solar farm was harvesting a natural resource, the light from the sun itself.
“At a high level a solar farm is harvesting the sun, the same as barley or canola harvest sun and rain,” Alm said.
Berger replied, “Try eating that for breakfast.”
Sundquist continued his strong view a solar farm should not be placed on prime farmland.
“I don’t think they should be using this for solar panels,” Sundquist said. “This is some of the best land in the area.”
Coun. Darry Markle pointed out a solar farm wasn’t the destruction of farm land.
Vizzutti described the MPC discussion as “philosophical,” and said it might be an important one MPC members might want to have with ratepayers.
Vizzutti said ratepayers might have similar divergent views on loss of agricultural land versus a view that solar projects are simply sun harvesting.

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