Kneehill county council wants regular input into wind, solar developments in its borders

Kneehill county council decided it wants to regularly give input on renewable energy developments within its borders to the provincial regulator. ECA Review/File
Written by Stu Salkeld

Kneehill county council decided it wants to regularly give input on renewable energy developments within its borders to the provincial regulator. The decision came after a lengthy debate at the May 30 regular council meeting.

Councillors heard a presentation from Manager of Planning and Development Barb Hazelton who wanted to formalize council’s previous desire to submit information to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) regarding renewable energy developments such as wind and solar farms within the municipality.

“On April 25, 2023, council directed administration to submit a statement of intent to participate in any and all renewable energy projects that are applied for in Kneehill County,” stated Hazelton’s memo to council.

“Council specifically noted the following concerns: The high quality of agricultural land that is being removed from production for renewable energy projects; the concern with who ultimately is responsible for the reclamation and end-of-life if the applicant becomes insolvent; lack of current legislation and requirements for security may leave a landowner unprotected; weeds, pest control and disease transfer and timing of the construction; and, the potential for erosion of the lands.

“During the May 16, 2023, committee of the whole meeting, council further directed that they did not want to participate in (an ongoing) full hearing which would entail retaining experts to represent and write reports to back up each of the noted concerns.

Going forward, administration will submit a statement noting the previously mentioned concerns for all renewable energy projects submitted to the AUC in Kneehill County.

We will not participate beyond the original written submission unless council determines on a site-specific basis that a proposed project warrants further participation.

“It should be noted that Kneehill County did not receive standing to participate in the hearing in the (current ongoing) Three Hills Solar project. The hearing is scheduled to be held Sept. 19-22, 2023,” added the memo.

Deputy Reeve Ken King, who chaired the meeting, stated he felt this move left the door open for future Kneehill County participation while understanding that becoming more involved in AUC hearings can require the help of experts and substantial amounts of taxpayer money.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham asked if the AUC explained why Kneehill County was denied standing for the Three Hills hearing.

Hazelton responded quite a few applicants got standing while quite a few didn’t and Kneehill was probably turned down because it doesn’t own land.

Machell-Cunningham stated that after hearing AUC representatives speak about renewable energy developments at the recent Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) convention she felt the agency is offering conflicting information.

Coun. Carrie Fobes suggested polling Kneehill County ratepayers to find out how deeply involved they want their municipality to get involved in AUC hearings on renewable energy developments within the county.

Deputy Reeve King noted deep involvement could require substantial expenses.

Coun. Wade Christie noted the county may seek ratepayer feedback on renewable energy developments but should remember it’s ratepayers who sign contracts to allow the developments on their land.

King stated Kneehill County plans to get involved regardless, but the question was at what level. “We don’t want to be left standing at the door,” said King.

The discussion came around to the topic of cost recovery for involvement in AUC hearings, and Hazelton cited an example of one group obtaining 55 per cent cost recovery and that an appeal may be involved as the group feels they’re entitled to 100 per cent.

King added from his experience it seemed companies are compensated quite well in such situations while residents less so.

Machell-Cunningham stated she’d like to see Kneehill’s participation be more open-ended and less focused on one application.

Coun. Debbie Penner agreed Kneehill County needs to be involved in these applications to protect productive farmland.

Councillors unanimously approved a motion to have every AUC renewable energy development application within Kneehill’s borders brought to a council meeting to decide the municipality’s level of participation on a case-by-case basis.

Councillors also unanimously instructed staff to bring back options for public consultation on Kneehill County’s level of AUC hearings participation.

Stu Salkeld
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.