Wheatland County is considering approving a new solar power plant east of Strathmore.
The planned development, called East Strathmore Solar Project, is a commercial 20.1 MW solar system that will consist of approximately 78,000 photovoltaic solar modules and approximately 10 inverter / transformer stations with a floor area of approximately 49 hectares.
The project is located approximately 15 kilometers east of Strathmore, south of the Trans-Canada Highway and west of Range Road 233. Once completed, the facility will provide power to Fortis Alberta's power distribution system via a connection to the approximately 800 meter long AltaLink substation ( m) east of the plant.
The East Strathmore Solar Project has already been approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), the provincial regulatory agency. Now the proponents need the approval of the district, whose first step is the approval of the land use. This requires the adoption of a statute to rename the 160 hectare project area from the total agricultural district, its current name, to an energy district, a use in the district's land use regulations specifically for commercial solar and wind developments. During the Wheatland County's regular council meeting on December 15, the first reading of a proposed statute on redesigning land for development was passed.
According to the county's land use regulations, energy districts require a 300m long setback from the edge of the redistributed area for a solar array to an adjacent residence. In this case, that setback was net, with the closest residence about 290 m from the nearest solar panel. However, according to a report from the county, the AUC granted this setback a deviation and reduced it to 26m on the property line.
Based on the Municipal Government Act, the AUC decision takes precedence over the county's land use regulations, legal plans and the development agency, county planner Meagan Williams said during the meeting.
However, if the developer files their development permit application, they still have to apply for a county derogation, she said.
An open day related to the project was held in Wheatland County on April 5, 2018 as part of the AUC approval process. Proponents responded to residents' concerns with proposed mitigation measures and held private meetings with residents to further discuss their concerns.
Some of the residents expressed concern about the visual impact of the development. In response, the AUC requires the installation of a vegetative buffer (i.e., planted trees / shrubs) that will act as a privacy screen along the property line. The buffer must be developed in consultation with a registered arborist and maintained throughout the life of the project.
The construction of the solar system should take about eight months. 40 private vehicles and three trucks come onto the site every day. Access to the site is via Range Road 233 via an existing oil and gas route. After the facility is built, traffic will drop to one or two private vehicles a week, according to proponents.
According to the proponent, the project will create over 100 jobs during the construction phase, 60 percent of which will be from Strathmore and Wheatland Counties. According to the AUC application, it requires electricians, machine operators, manual workers, skilled workers, site managers, and engineers. The project will also generate tax revenue for Wheatland County.
During the meeting on December 15, a public hearing on the statutes was also planned for January 12, which will be held via conference call due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After the public hearing, the Council may consider adopting the statutes in second and third readings. Once the redesign is approved, the council will need to discuss development approval for the application.