Wind Power – Facilities
ENGIE Development Canada GP Inc. (“ENGIE”) applied to construct and operate Buffalo Trail South Wind Power Project with a capacity of up to 400 megawatts (“MW”), the Buffalo Trail North 453S Substation and the Buffalo Trail South Substation (collectively, the “Project”).
The AUC approved the applications from ENGIE to construct and operate the Project on 59.02 hectares of privately owned land in Cypress County.
Alberta Utilities Commission Act, SA 2007, c A-37.2.
Alberta Environment and Protected Areas – Fish and Wildlife Stewardship: Conservation and Reclamation Directive for Renewable Energy Operations.
Electric Utilities Act, SA 2003, c E-5.1.
Hydro and Electric Energy Act, RSA 2000.
Water Act, RSA 2000, c W-3.
AUC Rule 001: Rules of Practice.
The Concerned Cypress County Owners Group (“CCCOG”), which consisted of individuals and families who own and occupy lands within 1,500 meters of the Project, submitted a statement of intent to participate (“SIP”) requesting the Project be denied. Alternatively, the CCCOG requested that the AUC impose several conditions if the Project is approved. The AUC granted standing to the members of the CCCOG, who raised several concerns with the Project.
ENGIE retained a noise expert to complete a noise impact assessment (“NIA”) for the Project. CCCOG also retained a noise expert to provide evidence about the NIA and potential noise impacts from the Project, who raised concerns regarding noise and compliance with Rule 012: Noise Control (“Rule 12”).
After examining the relevant provisions of Rule 012, the AUC made the following findings in relation to the noise concerns:
Highway 41 was not a heavily travelled road. The applicable permissible sound level (“PSL”) is, therefore, 40 dBA at night and 50 dBA during the day at all receptors considered in the NIA, including those close to Highway 41.
A ground attenuation factor of 0.7 was acceptable and appropriate for the Project study area.
The Project noise was expected to comply with the PSL set out in Rule 012 and will likely not create low-frequency noise conditions at receptors.
ENGIE’s commitments to reduce construction noise are reasonable and generally consistent with the mitigation measures recommended in Rule 012.
ENGIE must complete a comprehensive sound level survey at identified receptors and submit the survey to the AUC within one year after the Project commences operations.
Project value impacts
CCCOG’s property value expert concluded that the project could negatively impact the market value of adjacent residential properties and that the value of farmland in the area would not be impacted unless the land is to be used as a future building site. In relation to the CCCOG’s members’ lands for the existing and future residential building sites of 13 properties assessed, five properties could suffer value loss impacts in the range of 0 to 10 percent, and seven properties farther away from the project could suffer value loss impacts in the 0 to 5 percent range.
ENGIE’s property expert concluded that there was insufficient empirical evidence to draw any conclusions about the potential for the Project to impact property values. ENGIE stated that the conclusions offered by CCCOG’s expert, to the extent that they indicated a negative impact on property values from the project, were not based on empirical evidence and should be given reduced or no evidentiary weight.
The AUC accepted the CCCOG expert’s opinion that for the existing and future residential building sites of 13 properties assessed, five properties could suffer value loss impacts in the range of 0 to 10 percent. Seven properties farther away from the project could suffer value loss impacts in the 0 to 5 percent range.
The AUC found that potential shadow flicker impacts from the Project have been properly assessed and that ENGIE has a reasonable management plan, including response procedure and potential mitigation measures, to address stakeholders’ concerns and complaints about potential shadow flicker impacts from the Project. As a condition of approval, the AUC required that ENGIE file a report detailing any complaints or concerns it receives or is aware of regarding shadow flicker from the Project during the first year of operation, as well as ENGIE’s responses to the complaints or concerns.
CCCOG raised concerns regarding adverse health effects and impacts arising from the Project, such as impacts on pre-existing medical conditions and human health due to noise, shadow flicker, light pollution, stress and anxiety. The health concerns also extended to their livestock. In support of these concerns, CCCOG provided a summary of articles on the negative impact of noise and vibrations from wind turbines on animals prepared by an author who did not have specialized knowledge, training skills, experience or expertise in respect of the subject matter of the impact of noise and v
ibrations from windmills on animals, and who was not presented as an independent expert witness at the hearing.
The AUC found that, like human health, animal health is a subject matter that will generally require opinion evidence from an independent expert with sufficient specialized expertise, which also applies to literature reviews of animal health effects. Since the summary provided by the CCCOG was conducted by a person without any specialized training, knowledge or experience related to the impacts of wind turbine noise and vibrations on animal health, the AUC gave no weight to this evidence. The AUC found that noise and shadow flicker created by the operation of wind farms are not expected to produce adverse health effects.
Visual impacts and impacts on rural character of area
CCCOG emphasized the importance of their lands to their daily life, sense of well-being, and belonging to a well-established community as descendants of ancestors who had settled in the area generations ago. CCCOG believed that the construction of the Project would visually intrude on the area’s rural character.
The AUC noted its understanding of the CCCOG’s concerns that the construction of the Project would alter the area’s rural character. It also recognized that visual impacts are a consequence of industrial development and must be balanced against the Project’s public benefits. Having considered the Project’s visual impacts on landowners and their concerns about changes to the aesthetic character of this land, the AUC noted that development in pursuit of the public interest often requires change. The AUC found that the positive effects of the Project as a whole outweigh the adverse effects resulting from the visual impacts of the Project.
Benefits sharing agreements
The AUC noted that ENGIE entered into a benefits sharing agreement with some landowners, who agreed not to report concerns over safety issues or non-compliance with regulatory requirements until they give ENGIE 60 days’ notice. While the AUC considers such agreements a potentially effective way for applicants and non-participating landowners to enter into mutually beneficial arrangements and enforce private contracts outside of its jurisdiction, the AUC stated that the benefits sharing agreements do not affect the AUC’s jurisdiction or authority. According to the AUC, no contractual arrangements between landowners and a project proponent may limit the AUC’s jurisdiction to hear from landowners. If a concern or complaint from a landowner comes before the AUC regarding the Project, it will hear that complaint on its merits regardless of whether prior notice was provided to ENGIE by the landowner under the benefits sharing agreement.
ENGIE stated that the final equipment selection for the Project’s turbines would be made at a later date. The AUC, accordingly, imposed as a condition of approval that ENGIE file a final project update to the AUC once it has finalized equipment selection to confirm that the Project would not exceed the allowance for wind power plants specified in the final Project update.
Alberta Environment and Protected Areas – Fish and Wildlife Stewardship (“AEP”) determined that the Project poses an overall moderate environmental risk. The Project would intrude on environmental setbacks and the habitat of various wildlife species. ENGIE committed to several mitigation measures. To ensure compliance with the commitments and compliance with applicable rules, the AUC imposed the environment-related conditions of approval requiring monitoring, construction of exclusion fencing, setback fencing, consultation with AEP and qualified biologists.
Taking into account the mitigation measures proposed by ENGIE, the AUC found that negative impacts on the environment and wildlife could be mitigated to an acceptable level. As a condition of approval, the AUC imposed that ENGIE submit a post-construction monitoring survey report to AEP.
The AUC concluded that its benefits outweigh the negative impacts of the Project. The Project would provide 400 MW of low emissions electricity, contribute to the diversification of Alberta’s energy resources and reduce emissions compared to non-renewable energy projects. Further, the Project would provide local economic benefits for landowners and non-landowners in the form of lease agreements and benefits sharing agreements. The region would benefit from more than 200 jobs created during construction and additional long-term jobs necessary for the Project’s operation and economic benefits of around $700 to $800 million in investments and $1.8 million per year over 30 years in tax revenue.
The AUC, therefore, determined that the Project’s approval was in the public interest and approved the application to construct and operate the Project.