Paintearth Council: Data mining centres, macro solar fees in bylaw updates

Paintearth county councillors discussed amending Bylaw 698-21, Rezoning Land Use, and Bylaw 723-24, Development Fees and Charges at their regular council meeting June 4, 2024.

Following a review of the Rezoning Land Use Bylaw 698-21 by Director of Community Services Todd Pawsey and legal council, several proposed changes were made to provide consistency in terminology for solar energy and data mining server farms across documents, aligning with provincial language.

Changes including distinctions between macro and micro solar energy systems were defined, with macro systems changing from 150 kilowatt (kW) to one megawatt (MW) and the inclusion of data processing and mining centres.

Macro solar energy systems, often referred to as solar farms or commercial solar power plants, are large utility-sized generation plants exceeding one MW, as permitted by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC).

A data processing and mining centre is defined as a building, dedicated space within a building, or a group of buildings used to house computer systems and associated infrastructure and components for the digital transactions required for processing data in a secure climate controlled facility.

These centres include cryptocurrency and blockchain transaction facilities and generally operate off-grid, often in conjunction with oil and gas sites for energy needs.

“This is coming” noted Pawsey in reference to data mining centres.

The bylaw includes discretionary use of data processing and mining centres in agricultural and natural resource extraction districts and in rural areas.

Development permits for data processing centres are granted based on project scope, with a maximum of five years, which Pawsey noted largely follows the Camrose County’s set of regulations.

Building exterior quality and design must meet development authority satisfaction and be compatible with surrounding structures. Additional landscaping or screening conditions may be imposed and noise impact assessments and mitigation plans may be required by the development authority.

Data processing centres with power plants must comply with AUC regulations, and if not, a minimum setback of 500 metres is required from existing dwellings, as well, centres must mitigate off-site nuisances, including noise, odour, traffic, and dust, to the satisfaction of the development authority.

“These things make noise,” remarked Pawsey.

A hearing will be held on June 18 with third reading at the following council meeting.

Council motioned to pass second reading of Bylaw 698-21.

Solar fees
Director of Community Services Todd Pawsey emphasized the need to review development permit applications for macro solar farms, aligning them with fees for single-parcel industrial sites for wind turbines, specifically under Bylaw 723-24 Schedule of Fees.

Pawsey highlighted that solar farms require similar administrative review as wind farm projects, and suggested that fees for solar projects should equate with those for wind energy in terms of mega-watt (MW) production. Since fees cannot be charged by MW, they must be based on land usage, such as a quarter section.

Pawsey proposed a fee of $1,500 per quarter section for macro solar farm development permit applications to ensure equitable cost recovery. This fee would cover application processing costs, including road use maintenance, clubroot control, and other permit conditions enforcement.

“We need an equitable fee structure for all projects,” said Pawsey, suggesting that this would align with wind projects and ensure fair cost recovery for development.

With five pending projects, a fee structure is needed, Pawsey added.

However, there was some opposition within the council with members suggesting a higher fee.

“These are big projects,” voiced Coun. Diane Elliott.

“Maybe $1,500 is too low,” Reeve Stan Schulmeister agreed.

Council motioned to amend the fee structure to $2,000 and passed a third reading of the bylaw.

Cheryl Bowman
Multimedia Reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Cheryl Bowman

Cheryl spent most of her childhood in Stettler, growing up on a quarter section north of town. After graduating from Stettler Composite High School she moved to Calgary where she worked in various industries, attended The University of Calgary and raised a family.

She enjoyed volunteering and contributed in a variety of ways, such as writing articles for the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and covering charitable events as a photographer.

She moved back to Stettler in 2023 where she still has family.