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Solar Krafte Utilities Inc. Brooks Solar Farm, AUC Decision 26435-D01-2022

Link to Decision Summarized

Facilities – Solar Power

In this decision, the AUC approved the application from Solar Krafte Utilities Inc. (“Solar Krafte”) to construct and operate the 400-megawatt (“MW”) Brooks Solar Farm (the “Power Plant”). The AUC also approved the application to construct the Zachary 997S Substation (collectively, the “Project”). The AUC did not approve the construction and operation of the Power Plant within an area of native grassland impacted by the construction (“Impacted Area”).


The 400-MW Power Plant will consist of 1.143 million solar panels, a substation with two 240/34.5-kilovolt (“kV”), 220-megavolt ampere transformers, and three 240-kV circuit breakers and associated equipment. The Project is located 6.5 kilometers west of the city of Brooks and the Project area is approximately 1,870 hectares (“ha”).

Solar Krafte originally proposed that the Project would be located on approximately 1,578 ha of land. Solar Krafte initially did not obtain a renewable energy referral report from Alberta Environment and Parks (“AEP”) for the Project. The AUC placed the proceeding in abeyance to provide Solar Krafte with additional time to obtain the referral report from AEP. AEP determined that the Project would pose an overall high risk to wildlife and wildlife habitat, based on siting and wildlife use in the area. The AUC consequently denied the initial proposal from Solar Krafte.

Solar Krafte obtained a further 291 ha of land to construct infrastructure while avoiding areas of environmental concern and maintaining the Project’s capability. Following the addition of the land, AEP determined that the overall risk was lowered to a moderate level.

AUC Findings

Native Grassland

The AUC noted that AEP is responsible for the overall management and regulation of wildlife in Alberta and that the AUC is responsible for approving the construction and operation of solar power plants under the Hydro and Electric Energy Act (“HEEA”) and the Alberta Utilities Commission Act (“AUCA”). S. 17 of the AUCA requires the AUC to consider, in addition to any other matters it may or must consider in conducting the hearing, whether the project is in the public interest, having regard to its social and economic effects, and its effects on the environment.

According to the AEP referral report, Solar Krafte did not comply with the requirement in AEP’s Wildlife Directive for Alberta Solar Energy Projects (“Directive”) to site solar energy projects and temporary workspaces to avoid or minimize their occurrence in important wildlife habitats and to generally avoid native grasslands, native parkland, old growth forest stands, named water bodies, valley breaks (including coulees), valleys of large permanent watercourses and the eastern slopes region.

The AUC noted that the Directive outlines both requirements (the Standards set out in the Directive) and recommendations (the Best Management Practices set out in the Directive) to avoid or minimize the impacts of solar power projects on wildlife and wildlife habitats. Facilities are required to meet the standards from the Directive, while implementation of the best management practices is not mandatory. The AUC found that Solar Krafte’s proposed interpretation of the terms “disturbance” and “footprint,” as limiting the Directive’s application of the terms to the surface area of land permanently and physically disturbed (i.e., access roads, collector line routes, and photovoltaic module piling) and the land beneath the Project solar panels, is unduly narrow and inconsistent with these other elements of the Directive. Rather, the AUC found, that the science behind the Directive requires consideration of the full impact as a result of a solar project sited on native grassland (i.e., the entirety of native grassland within the fenceline of the project as well as outside) in order to minimize effects to wildlife and wildlife habitat.

The AUC found that if the Project is sited on the Impacted Area, the Impacted Area will no longer be native grassland habitat or will be less functional in an essential way for the species that rely on this habitat. The AUC was not persuaded that the level of impact on native grassland habitat is lower if species continue to use the area of native grassland between panel rows, or if the addition of solar project infrastructure makes the Impacted Area more desirable for other species. The AUC was also not persuaded that the level of impact may be lower because the Impacted Area is not “intact” pristine grassland. The AUC consequently found that there was a high risk of significant negative effects on wildlife if the Project is sited on the Impacted Area. The AUC further found that Solar Krafte was not able to adequately mitigate the high risk to the Impacted Area and consequently found that the impacts can only be mitigated by avoiding the Impacted Area.

Weight of Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat Risk Ranking Compared to Overall Project Risk Ranking

AEP ranked the risk to wildlife and wildlife habitat in the Impacted Area as high and the overall project risk as moderate. The AUC found that while AEP’s overall risk ranking is an important factor, the AUC must also consider the extent of the project’s effects on wildlife and wildlife habitats that result from siting the project on native grassland.

The AUC reiterated its general view that a project’s overall risk ranking from AEP is an important consideration when assessing whether a project is in the public interest. The AUC however noted that it must also take into account the specific evidence in a proceeding, which may require a determination on whether the impact on a specific wildlife feature is acceptable in the circumstances. The AUC noted that it has previously found that power plant applications are in the public interest, while also finding that aspects of those projects pose unacceptably high risks to specific wildlife features and did not approve those aspects of the project. Solar Krafte acknowledged that the AUC has the authority to approve part of a power plant application that it determines to be in the public interest while rejecting those aspects of a project that it determines are not. Accordingly, the AUC decided that it may, consistent with past practice and its legal authority, make determinations about specific environmental effects caused by the Project even though the Project may have received an overall moderate risk ranking by AEP.

Other Environmental Impacts

The AUC determined that Solar Krafte had met the Best Management Practice in the Directive for the avoidance of impacts to wildlife features and temporary wetlands in the areas of native habitat. The AUC acknowledged that Solar Krafte committed to investigate the use of white edges on the solar panels to reduce the risk of bird mortality. The AUC further noted that AEP may require the implementation of additional mitigation measures if it finds that bird mortalities are an issu

The AUC imposed as a condition of approval that Solar Krafte submits a monitoring survey report, regarding bird mortality, to AEP and the AUC, in accordance with Rule 033: Post-approval Monitoring Requirements for Wind and Solar Power Plants.

Other Issues

The AUC further considered concerns regarding agricultural impacts, impacts on property value, and the Project’s safety from effects, including solar glare.

The AUC determined that the Project was unlikely to affect the property value of agricultural land but may impact the value of residential properties. However, as the potential impact would not exceed five percent, the AUC was satisfied that the impact was acceptable.

The solar glare assessment identified nine dwellings, Highway 36, two local roads, and a railway as receptors and concluded that no solar glare is expected. Interveners noted that the solar glare assessment did not consider a helipad located approximately 2.5 kilometers west of the Project. The impact on the helipad was determined to be immaterial and manageable. Solar Krafte is committed to working with helipad users to minimize the Project’s potential impact on helicopter operations on a case-by-case basis and, if needed, explore mitigating measures such as alternative flight paths or limiting the resting angle of solar arrays.

The AUC determined that the mitigating measures to address issues regarding the helipad were acceptable and that other receptors, including residential and route receptors, are predicted to have no glare from the Project.

The AUC was further satisfied that the application and the participant involvement program conducted by Solar Krafte met the requirements of Rule 007. Solar Krafte committed to mitigating noise concerns raised, particularly by limiting construction to daylight hours. The AUC determined that Solar Krafte’s management plan for construction noise will comply with Rule 012: Noise Control and that Solar Krafte will appropriately mitigate traffic and dust impacts during construction and maintenance.

AUC Decision

Considering the impacts on native grassland in the Impacted Area, the impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat would not be acceptable. The AUC determined that potential positive impacts could not outweigh the negative impacts of the construction and operation of the Power Plant. Accordingly, the AUC did not approve the construction and operation of the Power Plant on the Impacted Area.

Benefits of the Project include new temporary and permanent local jobs, the creation of emission-free electricity, and over $3.2 million in local tax revenue.

The AUC found that the Project’s approval (excluding the Impacted Area) was in the public interest. The AUC approved the application for the construction and operation of the substation under s. 14, 15, and 19 of the HEEA. The AUC also approved the application for construction and operation of the Power Plant and associated facilities pursuant to s. 11 and 19 of the HEEA.

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