Wind Power – Facilities
In this decision, the AUC approved the application from Enel Alberta Wind Inc. (“Enel”) to construct and operate the 152.1-megawatt (“MW”) power plant designated as the Grizzly Bear Creek Wind Power Plant (the “Power Plant”). The AUC also approved the application to construct the Grizzly Bear Creek Wind Power Project 708S Substation (collectively, the “Project”).
Enel applied for approval to amend the previously approved Project, located on 18,566 acres near the town of Mannville, Alberta. The Project will consist of 31 4.5-MW Vestas V150 turbines with a hub height of 120 meters, a rotor diameter of 150 meters, and an overall blade tip height of 193.7 meters, and three 4.2-MW Vestas V136 turbines with a hub height of 82 meters, a rotor diameter of 136 meters and an overall blade tip height of 148.7 meters. The Project was previously owned by E.ON Climate & Renewables Canada Inc. (“E.ON”) and was approved by the AUC in 2016. At the time, the project consisted of 50 wind turbine generators with an individual generation capacity of 2.4 megawatts (MW). Enel acquired the project from E.ON in May 2019 and was authorized to construct and operate the Project pursuant to Power Plant Approval 26612-D02-2021 and Substation Permit and Licence 26612-D03-2021.
Even though the original project approvals were still valid, the AUC decided to treat the amendment applications as a new project since Enel advised that it is unable to construct its previously approved project, as the necessary turbine model is no longer commercially available. In addition, the applied-for project was substantially re-designed by increasing the capacity from 120 MW to 154 MW and relocating a large portion of the project infrastructure, including the associated substation. As a result, the proposed amendments have the potential to result in different environmental, visual, and construction impacts than were previously considered by the AUC, including the evolving regulatory standards since 2016.
The AUC approved Enel’s application to construct and operate the Grizzly Bear Creek Wind Power Plant and issued Approval 26677-D02-2022, pursuant to sections 11 and 19 of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act. The AUC also approved Enel’s application to construct and operate the Grizzly Bear Creek Wind Power Project 708S Substation, issuing Permit and Licence 26677-D03-2022, pursuant to sections 14, 15, and 19 of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act.
Finally, the AUC rescinded Power Plant Approval 26612-D02-2021 and Substation Permit and Licence 26612-D03-2021, which approved the original project in 2016.
AUC Discussion and Findings
The AUC issued a notice of application in accordance with Rule 001: Rules of Practice. The Grizzly Landowner Group (“GLG”) issued a statement of intent to participate, indicating their opposition to the Project. The AUC granted standing to the GLG. The GLG requested that the AUC deny the applications. In the alternative, the GLG recommended several conditions should the AUC decide to approve the project.
In granting the applications, the AUC considered the following issues:
The GLG raised several concerns regarding noise impacts and questioned the Project’s compliance with Rule 012: Noise Control. GLG requested that the AUC require Enel to update its noise impact assessment (“NIA”) to include the most up-to-date Project design.
To determine if the NIA meets the requirements of Rule 012, the AUC considered concerns about the accuracy or conservatism of the noise modelling, potential additional receptors, and adequacy of baseline case modelling.
With respect to the conservatism of the noise modelling for the project, the AUC found that the several conservative assumptions incorporated in the NIA sufficiently compensated for the level of uncertainty inherent in the noise model developed for the project. Consequently, there was no need to require Enel to incorporate additional uncertainty factors into the project NIA. The AUC determined that the NIA met the requirements of Rule 012.
The AUC found that it was unnecessary for Enel to proactively provide sound source ranking tables for the most affected receptors in preparation for potential future noise mitigation measures. As a condition of approval, the AUC required that Enel conducts a post-construction comprehensive sound level (“CSL”) survey, including an evaluation of low-frequency noise, at receptors R1, R8, and R55, in accordance with Rule 012. Enel was directed to file a report of this survey with the AUC within one year of the Project’s start of operation.
In relation to infrasound, the AUC found that measuring infrasound from turbines would not likely provide helpful information to assess project compliance with Rule 012, and it did not require Enel to measure infrasound as part of the CSL survey.
As a result, the AUC found that the project NIA and associated noise model met the requirements of Rule 012, that the Project is expected to be compliant with Rule 012 at all receptors, and that Enel will generally adhere to mitigation measures for construction noise set out in Rule 012.
Visual Impacts Including Shadow Flicker
The GLG raised concerns about the visual impacts of the project, such as how the presence of turbines will affect the rural character of the Project area and the impacts of shadow flicker on nearby residences.
The AUC acknowledged that large wind projects alter the landscape and, that for the GLG, result in visually unattractive impacts. The AUC balanced this factor against the project’s public benefits and concluded that the project’s benefits outweigh any negative impacts making it in the public interest.
With regard to shadow flicker, the AUC was satisfied that the shadow flicker assessment met the requirements of Rule 007: Applications for Power Plants, Substations, Transmission Lines, Industrial System Designations and Hydro Developments. According to the AUC, the potential shadow flicker impacts of no more than 13 hours per year are minimal because they represent a small proportion of daylight hours within the year and fall below the 30-hour per year criteria commonly applied to wind projects.
The AUC directed Enel to file a report detailing any complaints or concerns it receives from local landowners regarding shadow flicker from the project during its first year of operation, as well as Enel’s response to the complaints or concerns. The report must detail any implemented mitigation measures and associated stakeholders’ feedback regarding the mitigation. Enel must file this report no later than 13 months after the project becomes operational.
Finally, the AUC found no persuasive evidence that the project, operating as proposed in the
applications, is likely to result in adverse health effects for nearby residents as a result of noise, shadow flicker, or other impacts from the Project.
The GLG was concerned by the spread of clubroot and other soil-borne diseases due to soil transportation during the Project’s construction. Enel submitted a clubroot management plan designed to address the concerns raised by the GLG. The AUC determined that Enel’s proposed measures appropriately mitigate clubroot concerns.
The AUC also considered the impact of the Project on the landowners’ ability to aerially spray crops. The AUC found that the loss of the ability to use aerial spraying due to the presence of turbines has a negative impact on the GLG because significant precipitation, urgent pest or disease pressure, or mature crops could necessitate immediate aerial spraying.
The AUC determined that the risk of economic loss due to the Project’s impact on the option of aerial spraying is nevertheless low, as landowners rarely use aerial spraying, considering that high-clearance ground spraying has generally been effective.
Property Value Impacts
GLG members expressed concern with negative property value impacts from the Project, largely due to the visibility of the Project’s turbines from their residences. The AUC stated that it preferred to assess property value impacts based on project-specific evidence provided by experts and tested or made available for testing in a hearing. The AUC also acknowledged that project-specific evidence may not always be readily available due to the absence of local sales data.
In this proceeding, both parties filed evidence on property value impacts, which evidence reviewed third-party case studies and reports from other jurisdictions addressing the impacts of wind farms on property values. The AUC gave little weight to the conclusion in these studies, as it was not satisfied that the studies were representative of rural Alberta and the Project area.
However, based on the report from the GLG and in the absence of reliable empirical data regarding property market impacts in evidence from Enel, the AUC determined that there was a negative perception of the Project’s visual effects that may translate into a negative impact on property value between zero and 10 per cent.
The AUC considered issues regarding consultation, construction, reclamation, and environmental and wildlife impacts.
The AUC found that Enel’s visual simulations provided a reasonable representation of the visual impact of the turbines and project layout and that the participant involvement program meets the requirements of Rule 007.
The AUC further determined that the required road use agreement with the counties and Enel’s commitment to implement dust control measures reasonably address the GLG’s concerns about construction dust and traffic impacts.
The AUC was of the view that Enel’s reclamation responsibilities at the Project’s end of life are adequately addressed by existing reclamation requirements, including Enel’s lease agreements with Project host landowners and the applicable legislative regulations.
Enel submitted wetland and wildlife surveys that were developed and conducted according to Alberta Environment and Parks (“AEP”) standards and protocols. The AUC was satisfied with the submitted reports and determined that further surveys requested by the GLG were unnecessary. Further, the AUC determined that Enel’s commitments to mitigating measures reduce potential wetland and wildlife impacts to an acceptable level.
As a final condition of approval regarding environmental and wildlife impacts, the AUC required that Enel submit to AEP and the AUC annual post-construction monitoring survey reports regarding the Project, as required by Rule 033: Post-approval Monitoring Requirements for Wind and Solar Power Plants.
The AUC found that the benefits of the Project, including its ability to generate 152.1 MW of emissions-free electricity, the expected $80 million in local tax revenues, and the creation of temporary and full-time jobs, outweigh the potential negative impacts. The AUC determined the approval of the Project to be in the public interest.
Pursuant to s. 11 and 19 of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act, the AUC approved the application to construct and operate the Power Plant. The AUC issued the permit and license to construct and operate the Substation pursuant to s. 14, 15, and 19 of the Hydro and Electric Energy Act. The Project is expected to be placed and in-service by November 25, 2022.