You can’t rely on the Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) designations in Paintearth County when it comes to planning, including Capital Power’s proposed Halkirk 2 Wind Project that landowners are challenging, according to Todd Pawsey, development officer for the county.
Pawsey, told council on Jan. 23, that the assigned ESA’s in Paintearth County aren’t a reliable document for planning purposes because lands that are highly rated for ESA’s in the county are only rated low to mid range provincially and are cultivated farmland.
“Caution is encouraged when seeing, reading, listening to any argument or debate involving facts on matters highly subjective,” he said.
A group of Paintearth County landowners – the Battle River Group (BRG) – is challenging the county’s approval of Capital Power’s Halkirk 2 Wind Project that would see 74 wind turbine generators, a collector system and a substation.
Brenda Anderson, a practicing lawyer in Stettler spearheaded the BRG and is one of the landowners.
The BRG citied numerous concerns including environmental, noise, groundwater impacts, negative economic impacts and the health effects of the wind turbines on themselves, their families, livestock and wildlife.
The BRG said the proposed project is sited in an environmentally sensitive area that is home to large amounts of wildlife and migratory birds. They question whether there’s adequate protection for the environment and wildlife.
During Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing in Red Deer, biologist Cliff Wallis, who was hired by the BRG, provided expert evidence about the environmental impact of the project.
Wallis was one of the principal field researchers for an ESA study for the Paintearth County and the provincial launch of ESA’s.
At the hearing, Wallis criticized an environmental report prepared by Golder Associates, which was hired by Capital Power, on the proposed 148 megawatt Halkirk 2 Wind Power Project.
Wallis said that the proposed project is located in Central Parkland Natural Subregion that is considered endangered. He also said that the area of the proposed project is used by migrating waterfowl for breeding and staging. He voiced concerns about the relaxation of setbacks for wetland habitats.
Wallis recommended that the turbines be sited further away from the ESA’s of the adjacent valleys to protect bats and migrating songbirds.
Golder Associates, however, maintains that the project’s environmental evaluation and supporting materials demonstrate that all vegetation, wetlands and wildlife surveys required to support regulatory applications for the project were identified using Wildlife Guidelines for Alberta Wind Energy Projects and align with the Wildlife Directive for Alberta Energy Projects.
BRG presented a petition with 312 signatures to the county in December asking that the turbines be 1.5 km from homes instead of the proposed 500 metres. Paintearth County council, however, rejected the group’s petition in January citing the Municipal Government Act (MGA) rules as a reason.
Paintearth County’s Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB) held a hearing in December but adjourned it until April to allow Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to finish its regulatory review process of the proposed project.
Halkirk 2 would see 74 turbines in addition to the 83 turbines at Halkirk Wind Farm, which generates about $2.3 million in taxes annually to Paintearth County.
With Halkirk 2, Capital Power aims to meet increased power needs arising from the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan (CLP) that plans to end coal-fired electricity generation facilities by 2030.
Alberta Environment has already approved Capital Power’s Halkirk 2 project.