ST. PAUL - The County of St. Paul is moving forward with amending its Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and Land Use Bylaw (LUB) to address alternate energy production projects including solar and wind energy in the municipality. In doing so, council members agreed it needs to be clearly stated in the revised plan that jurisdiction over large scale commercial energy projects is in the hands of the Province, not local municipalities.
Concern by a landowner regarding a proposed commercial wind turbine project in the eastern part of the County was brought to the council table last month. At that time, council directed administration to provide options for changes to the municipality’s statutory plans to address these types of projects, while recognizing the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) ultimately holds the power as to whether they move forward or not.
“Make it clear to everyone that as much as we’d like to help you out, our hands are tied. If you’re dead set against this, we don’t have the stick to say no,” Gary Buchanan, the County’s Planning and Development consultant, advised council during last Tuesday’s Public Works meeting.
“I really feel that the individual landowner has way more approval than the municipality does on what happens on their property,” Reeve Glen Ockerman said, weighing in on the issue. “I think the public needs to know that.”
However, what the county can do within the confines of the Municipal Government Act is enact some requirements of potential developers from a land use perspective, particularly as they relate to municipal infrastructure and services. To achieve this, amendments to the county’s MDP and LUB are necessary, Buchanan said.
“Essentially there is no need to duplicate the work if it’s already been done,” Buchanan said, suggesting it be stated that developers submit copies of their AUC approval including any conditions applied by the AUC in connection with a project. The county can then request to see specific studies and analysis relating to such areas as environmental impacts, noise, shadow flicker, setbacks among others.
He recommended council focus its amendments on “filling the holes” which an AUC approval may not address such as road use agreements, reclamation and decommissioning funding and involving the municipality in the public consultation process right at the beginning of a project.
“So, if you’re (developer) out scouting about, it’s not just the landowner, you need to involve the municipality,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan presented council with three options for amendments to the MDP and LUB specific to alternate energy production projects. The first option essentially recognized the overarching authority of the province with the County limiting its involvement to little more than providing input to the AUC. Meanwhile, Option 3 stipulated a redistricting of lands proposed for commercial development to an Alternate Energy System District, along with a detailed list of requirements needing to be fulfilled before the County would grant any development approval.
Council chose to go with Option 2 which was described by Buchanan as a middle of the road solution whereby the municipality recognizes that Alberta is facing a new era of alternate energy production but the County also “acknowledges that it has an interest in ensuring that the energy needs of residents and businesses are satisfied in a reliable and efficient manner and the physical and natural environment is protected.”
Among other things, Option 2 outlined the objectives of reducing environmental impacts by encouraging sustainable energy production and energy conservation and protecting County infrastructure. Policies around reclamation and decommissioning, public consultation and measures to mitigate such factors as sight, sound, vibration, odours are included. Additionally, the County may require specific studies identifying impacts on a number of areas including water bodies, storm water management, soil quality, vegetation, County infrastructure, wildlife, and ground water, to name a few.
Coun. Ross Krekoski suggested council in considering the options narrow its focus to what it believes it can achieve given the authority of the AUC.
“We probably want to maximize our capacity to provide input to the process involving AUC but minimize the chance of us getting completely overruled,” Krekoski said, who later made a motion to support the second option. “It's probably in our best interests to determine which factors we want to include that are the most important but not overreach with the amount of stipulations that we have because I think that just increases the chances of us having very little input because eventually AUC is just going to hold the trump card anyway.”
Council gave its support to Option 2 and directed administration to proceed with the necessary amendments.