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Paintearth County supports landowners, has little say over energy projects

Municipality's have little say in wind energy projects
A new project has been proposed for east of Castor. (File photo)

Paintearth County residents are sharing concerns about a proposed wind energy project east of Castor. Mainly, they're asking the county why they haven't done more to prevent the project. 

The project of concern is Craig Lake Wind, a 246-megawatt wind project east of Castor proposed by Atco EnPower.  According to some residents, the project has the potential to infringe on recreational facilities in the area, including the County of Paintearth-operated Huber Dam recreation site and the privately-owned Cabin on the Coulee agritourism business.

"I cannot believe that the county has approved a windmill project for this area, a camping area within our county ... We are so fortunate to have a beautiful camping spot that is near full to total capacity all summer long," said one concerned resident in a letter to council.

Despite concerns from the community and letters shared at recent council meetings, the project isn't subject to the county's approval. It is still just a proposed project, and, according to Todd Pawsey, the county's manager of planning and development, the concerns need to be addressed to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).

"That is the higher level power," said Pawsey.

Ultimately, Pawsey said, the county's role is to support landowners, but in that support, they "have the right to use land as they see fit, given consideration for their neighbours."

"We support the land owner," said Pawsey, noting that if a land owner wants to allow a wind or solar project on their land, it "is the farmer's choice."

"There's not a lot we can regulate in the industry," said Pawsey.

"There's not much that we can say."

While municipalities now have more of a say and can act as interveners in the AUC process, the AUC has the final authority on a project and if it is deemed to be in the public interest, it will happen.

Even the municipality's Land Use Bylaw (LUB), while serving as a guideline for developers, is no guarantee that a project can be blocked or changed.

"The AUC has the power to change the LUB to conform with their issued license," said Pawsey.

AUC spokesperson Richard Goldberger confirmed Pawsey's statement.

"Both the AUC and municipal governments have approval authority over energy projects," said Goldberger, in an email statement.

"In the case of where the decisions of the AUC, the provincial regulator, conflict with the decision of the local government, the AUC’s decision will prevail."

The AUC's authority in this case comes from section 619 of Alberta's Municipal Government Act,  which deals with local bylaws and regulatory issuers.

Section 619 says: A licence, permit, approval or other authorization granted by the NRCB, ERCB, AER, AEUB or AUC prevails, in accordance with this section, over any statutory plan, land use bylaw, subdivision decision or development decision by a subdivision authority, development authority, subdivision and development appeal b

All energy projects seeking approval in the province need to get approval from the AUC as part of the regulatory process.

"The AUC uses a proven, established process to review social, economic and environmental impacts of facility projects to determine if approval of a project is in the public interest," said Goldberger.

"AUC staff members review each application submitted to verify that all application requirements in AUC Rule 007 have been met before an application is deemed complete. Rule 007 sets out application requirements for the construction, alteration, operation, and the discontinuation, dismantling and removal of power plants, as well as requirements for public engagement by the applicant prior to applying to the AUC."

Goldberger continued that if information is missing or incomplete, it will be requested from the applicant.

In total, energy project developers have nine steps to go through before a project will be approved.

"Municipalities are often affected by the development of utility and power plant infrastructure, and their input provides valuable insight into the potential environmental and economic impacts of proposed utility projects and helps to identify potential risks and mitigation strategies," said Goldberger.

"Municipal participation also assists the AUC in understanding the needs of local citizens and helps ensure that any proposed projects comply with provincial laws, the AUC’s rules, and its application requirements. The AUC values and encourages municipal involvement in its regulatory decisions on power plant projects, as their input leads to more informed decisions benefiting both applicants and local communities."

The AUC gets its powers and authority from laws and regulations set out by the Government of Alberta and is mandated to determine whether projects "are in the public interest."

To determine if they are in the public interest, the AUC must weigh the social, economic, and environmental impacts of projects.

"Public involvement is a critical part of this process, as it supports the AUC in understanding the overall public interest picture," concluded Goldberger.






Kevin Sabo

About the Author: Kevin Sabo

I’m Kevin Sabo. I’ve been a resident of the Castor area for the last 12 years and counting, first coming out here in my previous career as an EMT.
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