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Aura Power Renewables Ltd. Empress Solar Power Plant, AUC Decision 23580-D01-2019

Link to Decision Summarized

Facilities – Solar Power Plant

In this decision, the AUC considered whether to approve applications (the “Applications”) from Aura Power Renewables Ltd. (“Aura”) to construct and operate a solar power plant and to interconnect the power plant to FortisAlberta Inc.’s electric distribution system (the “Project”). The AUC found that approval of the Project was in the public interest having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the Project, including its effect on the environment.

The Applications

Aura filed the Applications with the AUC for approval to construct and operate a 39-megawatt (“MW”) solar power plant integrated with lithium-ion battery cell modules, in the County of Cypress, and to connect the power plant to FortisAlberta Inc.’s 25-kilovolt electric distribution system (the “Project”).

Legislative Framework

The AUC indicated it considered the Applications under sections 11 and 18 of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act, which make it clear that no person can construct or operate a power plant, or connect a power plant to the interconnected Alberta system without the AUC’s approval.

The AUC also noted that, in accordance with Section 17 of the Alberta Utilities Commission Act, the AUC must assess whether the Project is in the public interest, having regard to its social, economic and other effects, including its effects on the environment.

AUC Findings

The AUC determined that the technical, siting and noise aspects of the power plant had been met. Aura’s participant involvement program had been conducted in accordance with Rule 007. Additionally, the AUC did not receive any objections from potentially impacted parties in the area. Therefore, the AUC found that it had no reason to believe there were outstanding public or industry objections or concerns.

The AUC noted that, currently, there are no standards or regulations in place related to public safety associated with solar glare. However, the AUC accepted the conclusion of Aura’s solar glare analysis report that solar glare from the panels would not result in lasting health impacts on individuals, although an observer’s vision could be temporarily affected by an after-image from solar glare.

Regarding the environmental effects of the Project, the AUC was satisfied that the Project’s potential effects on the environment would be adequately mitigated. This conclusion was based on the expectation of diligent implementation of Aura’s various commitments as well as adherence to conditions of approval set out by the AUC regarding updated kangaroo rat den surveys, a finalized kangaroo rat mitigation plan and an annual post-construction monitoring survey report.

The AUC noted that there are no existing market rules or regulations governing the operation of battery storage systems in Alberta. The AUC found that, notwithstanding the lack of legislation or rules specific to the incorporation of battery storage into a power plant, the Electric Utilities Act and the Hydro and Electric Energy Act provide direction to the AUC on their respective purposes. Both acts promote the economic, orderly and efficient development and operation of generating units in Alberta. In the AUC’s view, no party, including Aura, filed any evidence on the record to suggest that approving the power plant with a battery storage component would be inconsistent with the stated purposes of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act or the Electric Utilities Act.

The AUC indicated it had concerns regarding potential environmental issues related to the replacement and recycling of degraded battery cells. The AUC considered that the improper disposal of battery cells could result in significant adverse environmental effects. Consequently, the AUC indicated it would impose as a condition of approval that Aura file a letter with the AUC no later than three months before the construction of the Project is to commence. The AUC indicated that the letter must identify specific details regarding the battery storage units and the battery supplier Aura has chosen, including whether Aura selected a battery storage supplier that has a recycling or disposal program.

Subject to the AUC’s conditions of approval, the AUC considered the Project to be in the public interest in accordance with Section 17 of the Alberta Utilities Commission Act.

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