Facilities – Solar Power
In this decision, the AUC approved the application from BluEarth Renewables Inc. (“BluEarth”) to construct and operate the Wheatcrest Solar Project, a 60-megawatt solar power plant (the “Power Plant”).
The Power Plant would consist of approximately 136,000 575-watt photovoltaic solar panels and associated racking systems, including 21 electrical inverters and 21 pad mount transformers. The Power Plant will be located on privately owned land southeast of Lomond.
A new substation and transmission line will also be constructed to connect the Power Plant to the AltaLink Management Ltd. transmission system. BluEarth would submit applications for these facilities in the future.
BluEarth submitted the information required pursuant to the Hydro and Electric Energy Act (“HEEA”) and Rule 007: Applications for Power Plants, Substations, Transmission Lines, Industrial System Designations and Hydro Developments. This included a renewable energy referral report issued by Alberta Environment and Parks Fish and Wildlife Stewardship (“AEP”) that concluded that the Power Plant would result in a low risk to wildlife and wildlife habitat. It further included an environmental impact assessment that indicated that any potential adverse effects of the Power Plant could be effectively mitigated.
In response to information requests, BluEarth submitted that it would engage an independent third-party assessment of decommissioning and reclamation costs and would create a reserve account to cover these costs at the end of the project’s useful life of 35 years. Further, BluEarth submitted that it did not consult with Indigenous groups because the Power Plant is proposed on previously disturbed private cultivated land, does not limit right-of-access for Indigenous communities, and is greater than two km from the nearest reserve.
The AUC reviewed the application and determined that the information requirements specified in Rule 007 have been met. As BluEarth submitted that it had not yet finalized the design or equipment of the Power Plant, the AUC, as a condition for approval, required BluEarth to file a letter to the AUC that identifies the make, model, and quantity of the equipment and the final equipment layout. This letter must also confirm that the finalized design of the Power Plant will not increase the land, noise and environmental impacts from what was approved for the base reference case by the AUC and it must be filed no later than one month before beginning construction.
The AUC accepted the prediction set out in the solar glare assessment submitted that the evaluated receptors would experience zero glare from the Power Plant based on its specific design. However, to account for the circumstances of the submitted assessment, the AUC required that BluEarth:
uses anti-reflective coating on the solar panels; and
provides an update to the AUC specifying the final backtracking design of the solar panels and confirms that the final backtracking design is consistent with the design approved by the AUC and will not result in glare for any of the receptors considered in the solar glare assessment. The update is to be filed no later than one month before construction is scheduled to begin. This update may be part of the letter confirming the final Power Plant design.
To ensure that issues associated with solar glare are addressed in a timely manner, BluEarth was further required to file a report detailing any complaints or concerns it receives or is made aware of regarding solar glare from the Power Plant during its first year of operation, as well as the response to the complaints and concerns. Finally, the AUC required that BluEarth submits to AEP and the AUC annual post-construction monitoring survey reports pursuant to Subsection 3(3) of Rule 033: Post-approval Monitoring Requirements for Wind and Solar Power Plants.
The AUC determined that approval of the Power Plant is in the public interest in accordance with Section 17 of the Alberta Utilities Commission Act having regard to the social, economic, and other effects of the Power Plant, including its effect on the environment. Pursuant to Section 11 of the HEEA, BluEarth’s application was approved.