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Company responds to Fort Macleod council’s solar farm concerns

A company planning to build a solar farm and storage facility 1.6 kilometres southwest of Fort Macleod responded to a letter of concern from town and MD of Willow Creek officials.

Ryan Dick of Neoen Renewables Canada Ltd. wrote in response to a joint letter from the Town of Fort Macleod and MD of Willow Creek opposing the project.

“We appreciate the time and effort invested by both municipalities in reviewing our presentation and deliberating on the potential impacts of the project,” Dick wrote. “Neoen acknowledges the concerns raised by the municipalities and respects the planning policies outlined in the existing planning documents.”

“At Neoen, we are deeply committed to being a conscientious neighbour throughout the anticipated 30-year operation of the project. We prioritize addressing community concerns and aspire to be a positive force in the areas where we operate. Being among the few companies spearheading projects from conception, to construction, to the full lifetime operation, until the end-of-life reclamation, we are genuinely invested in fostering strong partnerships within the community.”

MD of Willow Creek Reeve Maryanne Sandberg and Fort Macleod Mayor Brent Feyter signed a joint letter Feb. 26 outlining concerns with the project.

The letter cited as concerns the Jumbo Solar and Storage Project’s proposed location could impact the proposed Highway 2 and Highway 3 realignment and could interfere with the future residential, commercial and industrial growth of Fort Macleod.

Other concerns cited in the letter include taking good agricultural land out of production, and that the proposed site is within the intermunicipal development plan (IDP) area identified in a joint planning by-law of the municipal district and town. The IDP excludes confined feeding operations from the area immediately surrounding the town.

The project would be situated on 1,500 acres and consist of 405,000 bifacial solar panels and a 71-megawatt battery energy storage system. It would generate enough emissions-free electricity to power about 70,000 homes.

The Jumbo Solar site is bordered by Highway 810 on the east and Range Road 265 on the west, Township Road 90 to the north and Township Road 84 to the south.

In his letter, Dick pointed out the project’s economic benefits including 500 construction jobs and other economic activity in Fort Macleod and district.

Dick also explained the company has a community benefit-sharing program.

“We eagerly welcome feedback from the community on how this program can be tailored to best serve their needs,” Dick wrote.

Dick also noted Neoen will help residents within 500 meters of the project reduce their electricity bills with the installation of residential rooftop solar systems valued at up to $20,000.

“This will give the land owners 30-plus years of electricity savings to compensate them for any negative effects they might experience from the project,” Dick noted.

The letter pointed out the company will pay taxes on the solar farm, and noted the MD of Willow Creek received more than $4.5-million in taxes from renewable energy projects in 2022.

“That would be pertinent to the MD of Willow Creek — not us, as we will not see any tax revenue from this project,” Burdett said.

Dick addressed concerns about the site’s location, noting it was chosen for its proximity to existing transmission infrastructure, the flat land that is not Class 1 or 2 agricultural land, the “excellent” solar resource, and willing land owners.

“Given these factors, the chosen site emerged as highly suitable for the establishment of a solar farm,” Dick wrote. “It’s worth noting that delaying the project could result in its eventual development by another firm, given the site’s favourable characteristics.”

Neoen points out the MD of Willow Creek promotes the area’s suitability for solar energy projects on its Web site.

“I don’t think it’s ever been said the MD or the town are opposed to solar,” Burdett noted.

Dick told council the site was developed in consultation with Alberta Transportation on future highway design, and that it will be built to have the lowest possible visual impact on the area.

“We believe solar projects reinforce Alberta’s history of leadership in the energy sector,” Dick added. “Energy infrastructure has long been ubiquitous across the Albertan landscape. Overall, we consider that the immediate and long-term benefits which solar farms bring to communities are greater than the visual impact it may have.”

With regard to concerns about reclaiming the site Dick said the company has an agreement with land owners to provide within five years of the end of the plant’s life a cash bond, letter of credit or corporate guarantee to pay for decommissioning and reclamation.

“I want to reiterate our commitment to collaboration and dialogue as we move forward with this project,” Dick wrote. “We value the input and expertise of both municipalities and are eager to address any concerns and find common ground. Thank you once again for your thoughtful feedback, and we look forward to continuing our discussions in the spirit of partnership and cooperation.”

Council accepted Neoen’s letter as information.

“Would it be prudent to have some more discussion with the MD?” Mayor Brent Feyter asked.

Burdett noted the MD of Willow Creek invited the Town of Fort Macleod to participate with intervenor status on the application to the Alberta Utilities Commission.

“Further discussions are prudent,” Burdett said.

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