Proposed solar project around Fort Macleod sparking concern

Click to play video: 'Proposed solar project around Fort Macleod sparking concern'
Proposed solar project around Fort Macleod sparking concern
A proposed solar project is facing opposition from nearby residents and elected officials. While there are no issues about the renewable energy development itself, the location is the problem. Sarah Jones has more on the concerns being raised.

The MD of Willow Creek and the Town of Fort Macleod signed a joint letter Monday expressing their concerns about the proposed Jumbo Solar with Storage Project in Southern Alberta.

“Both MD of Willow Creek and Fort Macleod have made it clear. We’re not against solar,” stated Brent Feyter, Mayor of Fort Macleod. “It’s just: where do we put it so that it’s in the best interest of everyone? So, we’re hoping there’s a win, win, win, out of this.”

The proposed 1,500-acre, 178-megawatt industrial-scale solar farm with a 75-megawatt/150-hour battery energy storage system is just 1.6 kilometres southwest of the town.

Preliminary designs show approximately 405,000 solar photovoltaic modules.

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According to the municipalities, a major portion of the proposed site is located within their Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP), an area that was agreed upon by both parties to plan for future and long-term developments.

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However, with the approval of the provincial regulator, the project could bypass policies put in place by the IDP.

“We have worked so hard for the IDP and to have it in place,” explained Maryanne Sandberg, reeve of the MD Willow Creek. “We’re going to have a company come in and then they make an application to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), which will make the decision, not us.”

In addition to both municipalities opposing the project, 22 private property owners will be directly impacted.

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Mark Boot, a Willow Creek resident, says they were first approached about the project in the fall of 2023, when planning actually began back in 2022.

“I know it seems like we’re being difficult, but I just struggle with the fact that they didn’t even contact any of us for the first year-and-half of them spending all this money doing the research,” explained Boot. “They talked to the landowners but didn’t talk to any invested interest around the area.”

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Concerns of property devaluation, ruined views, noise and prolonged glare impacting residents, those driving along Highway 3 and the airport are just a few of the problems some property owners have with the proposal.

“We’ll be living within 150 meters of a solid wall of glass and steel,” said Boot.

Boot also voiced his concerns for environmental impacts, stating the extremely light soil in the area is easily disturbed and will take years to establish grass.

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Sandberg echoed those sentiments, citing the potential loss of good agricultural land.

Another concern revolves around the reclamation of land, as Sandberg says private landowners should be prepared to protect themselves.

“If these companies go bankrupt, we’ve already heard word that there’s two renewable companies that have come into Alberta that are already bankrupt,” said Sandberg. “If we’re going to do like the oil and gas industry and have taxes that are unpaid, it’s going to fall upon the local taxpayer and the municipality to pick up the tab in the end.”

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“Regardless of how much money they’re getting per acre, make sure that reclamation is secure.”

If the project receives the approval from the AUC after a moratorium is lifted at the end of the month, the France-based company, Neoeon, could then apply for development permits through the MD and could commence construction in 2026.

Last week, Neoen and SABR Energy Consulting hosted an open house for residents with questions regarding the proposed project, however it has not responded to Global News’ requests for comment.

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