As solar and wind developments become more and more prevalent in rural Alberta questions remain about how well educated landowners are when they sign lease contracts.
Kneehill County wants to ensure its residents have as much information as possible.
At their regular council meeting Feb. 28 councillors heard an update from Barb Hazelton, manager of planning and development, on a renewable energy information package for landowners.
Hazelton noted in her presentation that councillors decided at a January council meeting that staff would develop a package and bring it back for consideration.
“At the Jan. 24 council meeting, council directed administration to prepare an information package for landowners considering leasing land for a renewable energy project and also include information for landowners that may be affected by a renewable energy project,” stated Hazelton’s memo.
“Administration prepared a factsheet which was based on current legislation that outlines several things that should be considered by a landowner looking to lease their land for a renewable energy project.
It also highlights some potential concerns an adjacent landowner may have with the project.”
Hazelton further noted councillors discussed the factsheet at a committee of the whole (COW) meeting and that input had been included.
A copy of the factsheet was included in the agenda and offered topics such as potential concerns of adjacent landowners with your project which listed solar and wind farms possibly creating issues with aerial spraying, for example.
It was noted property owners who happen to be neighbours to a proposed solar or wind farm are encouraged to use a process belonging to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), with the factsheet including AUC’s contact info plus some information on the Farmer’s Advocate office.
During discussion, it was noted that sometimes Kneehill County is not aware that property owners are in negotiations with a renewable energy project developer until an agreement is signed.
Hazelton stated that councillors in their COW session suggested a public information night where property owners could hear from experts on this matter.
Coun. Ken King, attending the meeting by phone, suggested moving one component on the factsheet, a note that landowners have the option to obtain legal advice if a renewable energy project could affect them, higher up on the page. “…if it’s higher up it might draw more attention to it,” said King.
Coun. Faye McGhee stated she was happy to see local agricultural societies possibly included in this effort, as the issue is essentially an agricultural one.
She further stated she saw a fine line in this issue for Kneehill County involvement and including a third party may be the best approach.
Coun. King responded it’s fine to partner but Kneehill County has numerous agricultural societies and wondered if all of them would be included in this effort.
Reeve Jerry Wittstock suggested agricultural societies promote the information night while Kneehill County could offer support such as a venue.
McGhee asked if the county’s Agriculture Service Board (ASB) would be part of this. Staff responded this issue isn’t part of the ASB’s responsibilities.
King stated he felt Kneehill County had a responsibility to its ratepayers to provide as much information as possible about solar and wind farm developments and the effect they could have on property owners.
King stated that the tactics that are used by solar and wind farm developers are, in some cases, “…quite misleading.”
King added that if Kneehill can’t find a third-party partner, the municipality should go it alone in an attempt to provide as much information as possible to property owners so they can make the best decision possible.
“We can either be overrun by these developments…or we can take some proactive steps now,” said King.
Coun. Carrie Fobes agreed with King stating the county has a responsibility to share as much information with ratepayers as possible.
Fobes stated, in her experience, the information shared with property owners by solar and wind farm developers is “…not always 100 per cent correct.”
Councillors discussed the factsheet further but passed a resolution to table it to a future meeting to decide exactly what information should be on the sheet.
They also debated the public information meeting which was described as proposed for spring or early summer.
County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen stated Kneehill County should ensure if it organizes the information night the municipality’s neutrality should be obvious.
Coun. Fobes stated she preferred Kneehill County organize the info night rather than rely on a third party to do it.
King agreed, adding third parties such as agricultural societies would still have an important role to fill getting the word out to the community about the session’s importance.
During discussion, it was mentioned several times that Kneehill County is neutral when it comes to the pros and cons of solar and wind farms in agricultural communities.
“I do agree that we do stay neutral,” said Reeve Jerry Wittstock.
Councillors passed a resolution that Kneehill County staff will organize a community information night about solar and wind farms’ possible effects on agricultural operations and contact possible third-party partners for the project.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter