Solar Energy Facility Application – Environmental and Visual Affects – Property Values
In this decision, the AUC approved applications from SunAlta Solar Inc. (“SunAlta”) to construct and operate a power plant designated as the SunAlta Solar PV1 Project, and to connect the Project to FortisAlberta Inc.’s 25-kilovolt electric distribution system.
Application and Project Details
SunAlta filed applications with the AUC for approval to construct and operate a 9.25-megawatt (“MW”) solar power plant designated as the SunAlta Solar PV1 Project (the “Project”) and to connect the Project to FortisAlberta Inc.’s 25-kilovolt electric distribution system.
The Project would be located entirely on private lands in Newell County, approximately 14 kilometers southeast of the town of Bassano, Alberta, and interconnected to FortisAlberta Inc.’s 25-kilovolt electric distribution system. SunAlta filed a letter provided by FortisAlberta Inc. indicating that it had no concerns with the interconnection of the Project.
The AUC received a statement of intent to participate from Krista Evans. Krista Evans owns land immediately south of the Project area, which contains a dwelling approximately 360 meters south of the Project boundary. Krista Evans’ concerns primarily related to environmental, health and visual effects.
Discussion and Findings
The AUC reviewed the applications and found that the information requirements and the requirements for a participant involvement program specified in Rule 007 were met.
Environmental and Health Effects
Krista Evans expressed concern about SunAlta’s failure to identify the substances to be used in the Project and about the possibility that hazardous chemicals would be contained in Project equipment and infrastructure. The AUC acknowledged the concerns raised by Krista Evans about the potential for environmental contamination and health effects from the Project on nearby residents and livestock but found that the evidence filed in the proceeding does not support such concerns.
Regarding the environmental effects of the Project more generally, the AUC noted that the Project would be sited entirely on previously disturbed land that avoids environmentally sensitive features, and Alberta Environment and Parks (“AEP”) had determined that the Project presents a low risk to wildlife and wildlife habitat. Furthermore, SunAlta had committed to implementing the mitigation measures set out in Stantec’s Project-specific environmental evaluation, and those measures had been reviewed and accepted by AEP in the renewable energy referral report.
The AUC also noted that SunAlta has a conservation and reclamation plan (“C&R”) plan, a stormwater management plan, and an emergency response plan in place to address any environmental issues related to construction, operation, reclamation, and emergencies during the Project life cycle.
The AUC accepted the commitments made by SunAlta in its C&R plan as these commitments are consistent with the requirements of the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the C&R Directive. Based on the C&R plan, the Project reclamation will meet equivalent land capability at the end of the Project life cycle, as determined by reclamation criteria for the desired end land use. In addition, SunAlta would obtain a reclamation certificate from AEP before decommissioning the Project. As such, the AUC noted that it expects that during the reclamation stage, the Project will be decommissioned properly, and Project materials will be disposed of responsibly.
Having regard to the foregoing, the AUC was satisfied that with the implementation of and adherence to the mitigation measures identified, the C&R plan, the stormwater management plan, and the emergency response plan, the Project is unlikely to result in significant environmental effects and any potential adverse environmental effects from the Project will be adequately addressed.
Subsection 3(3) of Rule 033 requires approval holders to submit to AEP and the AUC annual post-construction monitoring survey reports. Consequently, the AUC imposed the following condition of approval:
a) SunAlta shall submit an annual post-construction monitoring survey report to AEP and the AUC within 13 months of the Project becoming operational and on or before the same date every subsequent year for which AEP requires surveys.
Solar Glare and Noise
The AUC accepted the report by Green Cat Renewables Canada Corporation and its conclusion that: nearby dwellings and Range Road 175 would not experience glare from the Project; the railway, Range Road 174 and Township Road 202 would experience some glare from the Project; and that glare from the Project would have low potential to create hazardous conditions at receptors.
The AUC found that there were no present public safety standards or regulations associated with solar glare that apply to the Project. The AUC did, however note its expectation that any glare issues associated with the project will be addressed by SunAlta in a timely manner. The AUC imposed the following conditions of approval:
b) SunAlta shall use an anti-reflective coating on the Project solar panels.
c) SunAlta shall file a report detailing any complaints or concerns it receives or is made aware of regarding solar glare from the Project during its first year of operation, as well as SunAlta’s response to the complaints or concerns. SunAlta shall file this report no later than 13 months after the Project becomes operational.
With respect to noise impacts, the AUC found that the noise impact assessment report submitted by SunAlta met the requirements of Rule 012 and accepted the conclusion of that report that noise from the Project will comply with the permissible sound levels.
The AUC decided not to impose post-construction noise monitoring as a condition of approval because the nighttime cumulative sound level at Krista Evans’ dwelling (the nearest occupied dwelling) is predicted to be 36.3 A-weighted decibels (“dBA”), which is 3.7 dBA less than the applicable nighttime permissible sound level from Rule 012 (i.e., 40 dBA). In addition, the Project noise contribution at Krista Evans’ dwelling is predicted to be 19.1 dBA, which is 15.9 dBA less than the 35 dBA nighttime ambient sound level. The noise contribution from the Project is thus expected to be minimal at Krista Evans’ dwelling.
The AUC noted that SunAlta did not finalize its selection of equipment for the Project. Consequently, the AUC imposed the following as a condition of approval:
d) Once SunAlta has made its final selection of equipment for the Project, it must file a letter with the AUC that identifies the make, model, and quantity of the equipment and, if the equipment layout has changed, provide an updated site plan. This letter must also confirm that the finalized design of the Project will not increase the land, noise, glare or environmental impacts beyond the levels approved in this decision. This letter is to be filed no later than one month before construction is scheduled to begin.
The AUC’s evaluation of visual effects from the Project focused on Krista Evans’ dwelling rather than unoccupied land or nearby transportation routes. Krista Evans expressed concern about the visual effects of the Project. She stated that it was her intention to return to her property to raise her family, but since the announcement of the Project, she no longer wished to live there “because of the visual aspects I [she] would be forced to endure on a daily basis.”
The AUC acknowledged Krista Evans’ concerns about the visual effects of the Project. However, based on the very limited evidence available, the AUC was not persuaded that the Project would have an adverse visual effect on Krista Evans’ dwelling, such that visual abatement as a condition of approval is warranted.
In addition, the AUC noted that the proposed Project design has incorporated feedback provided by an industrial stakeholder during the participant involvement program. As a result of this feedback, some solar arrays initially located close to the south property line (i.e., close to Krista Evans’ property) had been removed. Although these design changes were not implemented to address Krista Evans’ concerns, the AUC found that they reduced the potential for visual effects from the Project on Krista Evans’ property.
The AUC had previously expressed the view that concerns over property value impacts require specialized expertise and evidence in order for the AUC to conclude that a given project will have an adverse effect on land and property values. No such evidence was filed in this proceeding.
The AUC noted that FortisAlberta Inc. did not express any concerns with the proposed interconnection of the Project to the Fortis Alberta Inc. distribution system, and there are no outstanding public or industry concerns related to the interconnection.
For the reasons outlined above and subject to all of the conditions listed, the AUC found that approval of the Project is in the public interest having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the Project, including its effect on the environment.