A wind project that has been in play since 2009 has finally taken hold as the community of Delia and Hand Hills prepares for big changes.
Initially, Joss Wind Power Inc. – a subdivision of BluEarth Renewables Inc. – intended to construct and operate a 78.2 Megawatt (MW) Wind Power project and substation southeast of Delia under the project name Hand Hills Wind Power Project.
In 2012, ownership was changed to BluEarth Renewables Inc.
Since then, the company filed for a time extension, amendments to the current application to better suit the desires of the company, and a transfer of ownership to BER Hand Hills Winds GP Inc (BER GP), a subsidiary of BluEarth Renewables.
The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) issued a ruling on Oct. 18, 2017, indicating that it could not process the amendment portion of the application until BluEarth provided specific information on the turbine technology that it proposes to construct, including the make, model, type, location and noise information of the turbines.
On May 7, 2018, the AUC received applications requesting an ownership change for the power plant and substation from BluEarth to BER GP.
The Commission then decided to combine the ownership change applications with the power plant amendment application which was then approved.
As of October, 19 turbines are expected to be constructed in the naturally hilly area. This number was reduced from 34 after consultation with nearby residents last year.
Each turbine will generate up to 4.5MW and will pierce the sky at a height of 107.5 metres. The diameter of the rotor will be 145 metres. This means the entire structure will reach a height of 180 metres.
An open house in Delia is scheduled for next week, Thurs. Nov. 29. The company intends to give an update on the process, new layout, and turbine technology in greater detail as well as address questions and concerns.
Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has reviewed the project preconstruction environment evaluation that was submitted by the company.
AEP was restricted to only what was provided by the company through their environmental report as they are unable to do on-site third-party surveys to determine the risk to wildlife in the Hand Hills area.
The study was conducted throughout 2017 and focused on habitat mapping, avian spring and fall migrations, sharp-tailed grouse, breeding birds, burrowing owls, bat migration, raptor nests, wetlands, and rare plants.
The summary of the report notes there is a moderate risk to wildlife and their habitats in the area.
Wetland habitat risk is considered low because the project emphasises on the use of cropland rather than wetland areas.
One sharp-tailed grouse lek (dancing ground usually made up of short, relatively flat ground) will have a high risk of disturbance associated with several permanent structure features.
Also, the fatality of bats is considered high because of the large migratory bat passes as determined in the survey.
The AEP has required BluEarth to conduct three years of post-construction monitoring to determine fatality rates.
AEP requested the raptors nest, sharp-tailed grouse, and burrowing owl surveys also be done on an annual basis until the project is completed to make sure data is up to date and to truly define the risks of the project on wildlife.
Most of the areas chosen for development have been useable, cultivated cropland, which accounts for just under six sections. The entire project will cover approximately 7,000 acres – just under 11 sections.