Kneehill County councillors discussed complaints about the public consultation strategy of a large company building a solar array in the municipality.
The discussion occurred at the June 22 regular meeting of council.
During the meeting Coun. Ken King referred to a recent presentation made to council by Capstone Infrastructure about their large solar array located in Kneehill while members of the public contacted him to voice concerns.
King stated that he recalled Capstone, in their presentation, noting they wanted to be a good corporate citizen and talk with the community but he understands from concerns given to him by the community a lot of people feel they’re not being talked to and they’re not getting the information they want about the project.
King noted he feels council should encourage Capstone to put in more effort to engage with Kneehill residents, possibly a public consultation process.
Coun. Glen Keiver stated that perhaps Capstone feels that visiting council was, in effect, public consultation.
Both Reeve Jerry Wittstock and King agreed an 800 metre consultation zone around the project wasn’t adequate.
Coun. Wade Christie agreed, noting a question he asked about animals grazing around the solar panels wasn’t answered.
Coun. Debbie Penner also agreed with King, noting her question about whether Capstone presenters had been to the site was answered with a “no.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to send a letter to Capstone to encourage them to conduct a public consultation process on the Kneehill solar array project.
Councillors were referring to Capstone Infrastructure’s presentation to them at the May 25 regular meeting of council.
At the meeting three Capstone representatives, Andrea Kausel, a Capstone vice-president, Lucas Reindler, a community engagement consultant and Megan Hunter, a Capstone communications person, gave councillors a report on the project which Capstone acquired from Samsung in March 2021 and which is located north of Three Hills.
Kausel stated Capstone is a nationwide independent power producer that now has a few wind and solar developments in Alberta.
“We really view these as long term commitments to a community,” said Kausel.
“This really drives Capstone’s approach to building relationships with its host municipality, with its residents at the early stage of development.
“We really attribute our success to this approach in terms of early engagement with the local community.”
According to material presented at the meeting the change of ownership notice on the Kneehill solar project was filed with the AUC, a newsletter was sent to residents in May and initial engagement initiated with landowners nearest the site.
Detailed engineering, equipment selection and procurement planning is ongoing. The overall capacity, 25 megawatts, remains the same.
It was also stated Capstone will finalize design with the AUC in May and June, continue engagement with landowners and the county to ensure understanding of proposed changes, issue the tender for construction, update its development permit and begin construction possibly in late summer, early fall.
Coun. Christie asked if and how livestock would be used to handle weeds on the site. Kausel stated no decisions have been made for that.
Coun. Jim Hugo stated a local landowner complained to him that information about the project was difficult to get and that the mail-out didn’t “tell a hell of a lot” about the solar array.
Hugo wanted to know when Capstone plans to talk directly to landowners.
Reindler stated the company has made many calls to people and left messages, sent the flyer, is following a process but “haven’t had a lot of one-on-one discussions yet, but that is in the plan.”
Hugo asked if the site will be fenced and Kausel stated a perimeter fence will be included.
He also asked what long term employment Kneehill residents may enjoy from the project. Kausel answered two to three maintenance employees will be needed and it’s not certain where they will come from but Capstone expects them to be regional.
Reindler stated Kneehill will see substantial tax revenue from the project and economic benefits from the construction phase.
Hugo finished by asking if the solar array negatively affects the property values of nearby acreages. Kausel stated data from other projects in Alberta and other provinces suggest there will be no negative effects on property values.
Councillors accepted the May 25 presentation for information.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter