The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) conducted an official online hearing to discuss details pertaining to the proposed Hand Hills wind project by BER Hand Hills Wind GP Inc. and Bluearth Renewables.
The hearing, which took place on Thurs. Sept. 17 and the morning of Fri. Sept. 18 included written and verbal statements from both professionals, lawyers and landowners.
All participants were affirmed (the equivalent of swearing an oath without any affiliation to God) their reports to be truthful and accurate to the best of their ability.
BER Hand Hills applied under the Hydro and Electric Energy Act to amend the previously approved Hand Hills Wind Project located approximately five kilometres southeast of Delia.
The project consists of a wind power plant and the Highland 572S Substation.
The amendment application, filed on Feb. 28, 2020, with supplementary information submitted on April 14, 2020 is for approval to construct 29, 180-metre-tall wind turbines with a total capability of 130 megawatts.
In its supplementary information, BER Hand Hills Wind GP Inc. confirmed that it was not applying for the spare turbine locations indicated in its amendment application.
A network of underground and overhead 34.5-kilovolt cables would connect the wind turbines to the previously approved project substation.
The amendment application also requests approval to alter the equipment in the project substation and to change the construction completion date for the project to Dec. 31, 2022.
During cross examination, representatives of Bluearth: Mr. McDonald and Mr. Verok were asked specific questions about the project.
A finalized list of commitments will be submitted next week.
On the morning of Sept. 18, two landowners in or in close proximity to the project presented a verbal report on their concerns including Kelly Fitzpatrick and Jo-Lynn Mellin.
Both landowners brought up concerns such as the beautiful landscape of the area, property values, construction, health, distrust in the turbine company and more.
For Ms. Melin specifically, she was worried about construction which could last between eight and 12 months or longer depending on interruptions.
She mentioned that sharp tailed grouse are prevalent near her home, some even nesting in her caraganas along the property line.
With some of the construction vehicles passing by, she is worried they will not slow down enough to allow them to pass.
BER Hand Hills did mention the day prior they would have construction vehicles slowing down to 30 km/h in those areas to limit noise and disruption as part of their promise when building.
She noted her home is a bed and bale property and horse breeding facility she solely runs as part of her retirement plan mixed with life-long passion.
With the erection of these turbines, she fears shadow flicker, light pollution and disruption of regular energy by the movement of the turbines will not only affect her business but also her livelihood and retirement.
“I’m 66-years-old. I didn’t buy this property with the intention of re-selling and relocating. This was to be my retirement home and to provide me with a retirement income. And this whole turbine business has completely turned that opportunity upside down,” said Melin.
Melin suffers from fibromyalgia, making rest and exercise keys to her management of it.
As for Ms. Fitzpatrick, she noted that her family has had this land for almost 120 years perched just north of the project zone.
She also mentioned that others are in fear of standing up to the company as they do not want to cause a divide within the community between family, friends and neighbours.
Fitzpatrick was worried about turbine decommissioning, saying the ‘toxic’ materials like fiberglass and oil will remain for years after it is no longer in use if the company does not put money up front towards reclamation.
The job for Ms. Meghan Anderson, AUC counsel, is to fill in any gaps within the AUC’s understanding of the project so she asks any questions that may still be unanswered to help aid in their final decision.
She asked Fitzpatrick if knowing that there are facilities in Canada that do currently accept turbine material alleviate any concerns she may have about that and that there are laws in place to enforce this.
Fitzpatrick said no as these companies could become bankrupt, leaving the project with no money to support the cleanup process.
She felt they should come up with some money upfront for reclamation, saying the laws felt more like guidelines rather than laws.
Gordon Verock of Bluearth shared that the bulk of the salvage value of these turbines is in the steel and high value metal components in the overall infrastructure which there already is a market.
“Bluearth is confident that the site can and will be decommissioned and reclaimed as outlined in the directive,” he said.
He also stated that this project has already been addressed by companies they hope to decommission the project through, saying they are familiar with the market and confident the overall cost of the wind farm is in line with salvage value from the scrap.
Bluearth, during the hearing, said they are approaching this project with the local and hyper local community in mind by supporting Delia, Starland County, Special Areas and the province whenever possible.
This includes hiring locally, utilizing services liking dining, snow plowing and so forth as well as providing direct resources for landowners and concerned parties to reach out to and a 24-7 phone line.
Construction, if allowed, would take place during sharp tail grouse lekking season but restrictions of only having movement take place is three hours after sunrise to allow the species space and time.
A biologist will be on site as well in case there are any new animals that have taken residence in the area and can tell when construction needs to stop because of this.
No date is set as to when a decision by the AUC will be made in the future.