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Alberta Health Services Foothills Medical Centre Power Plant, AUC Decision 23958-D01-2020

Link to Decision Summarized

Facilities – Medical Centre Power Plant Expansion


In this decision, the AUC considered whether to approve an application (the Application”) from Alberta Infrastructure (“AI”), on behalf of Alberta Health Services (“Alberta Health”), to construct and operate the Foothills Medical Centre (“FMC”) Power Plant expansion (the “Project”) and to connect the power plant to the Alberta Interconnected Electric System (the “Project”). The AUC found that approval of the Power Plant Expansion was in the public interest. However, the AUC placed the Application for interconnection to the Alberta Interconnected Electric System (“AIES”) in abeyance until further notice.

Background

The applied-for expansion would involve the construction and operation of one 8-MW gas turbine generator, which would be integrated with a new heat recovery steam generator (“HRSG”) unit. The proposed Power Plant Expansion and new HRSG would use natural gas to co-generate electricity and steam for use by the FMC and the proposed expansion.

Alberta Health applied to connect the proposed Power Plant Expansion to AIES to increase operational stability of the existing power plant and the proposed Power Plant Expansion.

AUC Findings

Noise

AI retained Stantec Consulting Ltd. (“Stantec”) to provide evidence on the Project’s noise impact and prepare a noise impact assessment (“NIA”) for the Project.

The AUC noted that the 2019 and 2020 versions of Rule 012 make clear that deferred facility status was eliminated on October 17, 2018, and that after this date, pre-1988 facilities must demonstrate compliance with the PSL established in the current Rule 012. The AUC, therefore, found that the PSLs previously established for the FMC Power Plant are no longer valid. Pursuant to Table 1 of Rule 012, the AUC indicated that applicable PSLs at the five noise receptors are 61 dBA for the daytime period and 51 dBA for the nighttime period.

AI conducted an exhaustive mitigation study at the noise prediction stage. However, despite the implementation of those measures, predicted cumulative sound levels at receptors R1, R2, R3, and R4 nonetheless exceed the nighttime PSL of 51 dBA by up to 1.1 dB. Notwithstanding the predicted exceedances, the AUC considered that the noise-related aspects of the Application weighed in favour of Project approval because:

(a)     the FMC Power Plant generates electricity for use by a medical facility;

(b)     prior to October 2018, the FMC Power Plant was compliant with the elevated nighttime PSL consistent with its status as a deferred facility;

(c)      the Project noise impacts may be overestimated because of the model utilized to predict noise levels; and

(d)     AI conducted an exhaustive study to identify potential noise mitigation measures and committed to implementing further mitigation measures if non-compliance is identified in the post-construction comprehensive sound level (CSL) survey.

The AUC agreed that AI should complete a post-construction CSL survey to verify compliance with Rule 012 once the Project commences operation.

Other Power Plant Considerations

From an air quality perspective, the AUC accepted that the predicted 9.1 μgrams/m3 for fine particular matter was below the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives maximum of 10 μgrams/m3. The AUC was also satisfied that the electromagnetic field levels were expected to be much lower than the maximum dosage recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Purpose of the Expansion

The AUC noted that when it considers and makes decisions about the siting of power plants it considers concerns such as potential property impacts, environmental impacts, and noise, among other issues, however it does not determine if and where in the province power generation should be sited as electric generation is deregulated. Because electric generation is deregulated, the AUC cannot assess the need for a power plant. While the AUC acknowledges a concern about other power plants being constructed in or near residential areas, the AUC is required to separately consider the individual impacts of each power plant for which an application is filed.

Connection Order

In Decision 23418-D01-2019, the AUC considered whether the statutory scheme allows a market participant to generate electricity for the purposes of self-supply and export to the AIES. For the reasons set out in paragraphs 75 to 102 of that decision, the AUC found that the statutory scheme does not allow for such conduct except in specific circumstances:

… the Commission is satisfied that the statutory scheme expressly authorizes the owners of industrial systems and micro-generators to self-supply and transact any electric energy that is in excess of their own use through the interconnected electric system. Absent from the statutory scheme, however, is any express authorization for a party that relies upon the exemption in subsection 2(1)(b) to export electric energy that is in excess of the person’s own use on the property. Given that such express authorization exists for the other two self-supply mechanisms, the Commission considers its omission for subsection 2(1)(b) operations to be intentional and reflective of the drafter’s intent to require that all the electricity produced on site be consumed on site.

The AUC found that while it recognizes that there are several benefits to allowing Alberta Health to export electricity from the FMC Power Plant and its expansion Project, it does not have the authority to approve a connection order that would allow for the self-supply and export of electricity as requested by Alberta Health.

The AUC acknowledged that although this is not consistent with its past practice prior to the issuance of Decision 23418-D01-2019, there is a current and ongoing consultation on the issue of self-supply and export. As noted on its external website, “[t]he AUC received 33 thoughtful submissions in response to Bulletin 2019-16, the majority of which favoured Option 3: Unlimited self-supply and export. While the AUC does not have the authority to amend the relevant legislation, it has shared these submissions with the Department of Energy. In response, the Department of Energy requested that the AUC proceed with a second round of consultation focused on the market and tariff implications of unlimited self-supply and export.”

The AUC found that given the Department of Energy’s request to continue consultation and the potential for amendments to the applicable legislation, rather than deny the connection order, the AUC placed the connection portion of the Application in abeyance and indicated it would provide direction to Alberta Health and AI once consultation is finalized.

Conclusion

The AUC found that approval of the Power Plant Expansion was in the public interest having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the Project, including its effect on the environment. The AUC, therefore, approved the Project.

However, the AUC also found that the interconnection did not meet the statutory scheme and placed the Application for interconnection to the AIES in abeyance until further notice.

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