Kneehill County hears landowners could be responsible for cleaning up wind, solar farms

ECA Review / file
Written by Stu Salkeld

Kneehill County council approved a factsheet intended to provide landowner information about solar and wind farm development, and during the staff presentation they heard that it’s possible landowners could be held responsible for end-of-life clean up of such developments. The decision was made at the March 14 regular meeting of council.

Director of Community Services Kevin Gannon brought back to councillors the proposed renewable energy information package for landowners which had been discussed at a previous regular meeting.

“At the January 24, 2023, council meeting, council directed administration to prepare an information package for landowners considering leasing land for a renewable energy project and to also include information for landowners that may be affected by a renewable energy project,” stated Gannon’s memo to council.

Gannon explained one change made by staff since the package was first presented is to offer multiple factsheets.

Gannon stated that to ensure clarity, the single sheet had been broken up into two, including a factsheet for landowners considering leasing land to a solar or wind farm and another for landowners adjacent such a development.

Gannon stated it was important to point out landowners may become liable to undertake end-of-life obligations which may include the costs to remove the equipment and reclaim the site.

“It’s such a potential high risk for those customers,” said Gannon, adding that the factsheets encourage landowners to seek legal advice.

Coun. Faye McGhee noted the county rarely dates things such as factsheets and asked if these should have a date on them. Gannon responded bylaws and policies are usually the only things Kneehill County dates, but the factsheets could be dated if councillors preferred. He pointed out provincial and federal laws can change though.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham noted the very important weed control information included on the factsheets; she asked if gophers should also be listed. Machell-Cunningham also asked if damage caused to crops on farmland adjacent to the solar or wind farm should be included on the factsheets.

Coun. Ken King asked how adjacent crops would be damaged.

Machell-Cunningham responded that she knew of a current renewable energy development that had to pay for crop damage adjacent their project because the development’s equipment went onto the farm field.

Gannon responded that a situation as described could be seen as trespassing which is a legal situation all its own.

He added that the factsheet could encourage readers to know and understand a project’s physical boundaries and that if damage occurred a property owner should seek legal advice.

Coun. King pointed out “gophers” are not technically a named pest; he stated he wasn’t sure there was anything the county could do about that problem.

Machell-Cunningham noted a ratepayer brought this concern to her with said resident claiming a solar or wind farm developer told them the property owner or county is responsible for gophers.

Reeve Jerry Wittstock interjected by noting Kneehill County doesn’t claim responsibility for gophers.

“Those are the Queen’s gophers,” he said.

County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen suggested the factsheet section dealing with weeds could be re-worded to include pests such as gophers.

Machell-Cunningham asked how issues such as traffic and dust caused during the construction of a solar or wind farm would be handled.

Both Gannon and Haugen responded that Kneehill County sees developers as being responsible for their projects, including the traffic and dust they’re causing.

Councillors unanimously approved the renewable energy information package for Kneehill County landowners, including the changes discussed at the March 14 regular meeting.

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.