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Open house sheds light on solar power project

Roughly 50 people take in March 8 open house
Nathan Brown, right, speaks with a subject matter expert, Jay Wildman with SABR Energy Consulting at an open house March 8, for a proposed 24-megawatt solar project in Westlock County. More than 50 curious residents and landowners came out to the open house to ask questions.

WESTLOCK – More than 50 area residents, curious about a proposed 24-megawatt (MW) solar project in Westlock County, showed up to ask questions and speak with company representatives and county councillors at a March 8 open house at the Westlock Inn. 

The new solar power project, owned by Acestes Power ULC based in Calgary, will be located two kilometres north of the Town of Westlock and is expected to be in operation by the end of 2024.

“I think people are optimistic, excited about projects like this happening in the county. I think we — the county and the town, as a region have really focused on economic development, bringing new things to the area,” said Westlock County Coun. Isaac Skuban at the open house. “It’s nice to see projects like this come forward to make our area better.”

Currently slated to be built at NW and SW 17-60-26 W4M, the project would produce up to 24 MWs of power into the local electric distribution grid and will include approximately 55,000 modules installed on a single-axis tracking system — the system will gather (DC) power from the solar panels and convert it to alternating current (AC) power which will be sent to a transformer to increase the voltage to 25 kilovolts (kV) for delivery to the local electricity grid.

After the company’s Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) application, which is slated to be tendered in April with an anticipated approval by late summer, the county will “have a better indication of what’s happening and what we need to do,” said Skuban. “So, we’ve got to be ready no matter what happens.”

Some of the feedback he has heard centered over its location on prime agricultural land, its impact on farmland and the glare from the panels. One of those concerned citizens was Nathan Brown, a Westlock County farmer whose land is about a half-mile from the project boundary line. With little information about the project, Brown said he has questions and concerns and attended looking for answers.  

“I’m asking about what their (Acestes Power) plans are, how they’re planning to move forward and just trying to see what’s going on,” said Brown. “I haven’t been convinced one way or another whether it’s a good plan for the county or for farm owners or anything like that because it is high-quality land they’re trying to put (the project) on.”  

While he hasn’t yet spoken with neighbours about the project, Brown said he would be interested to learn how it would impact his neighbours and the county as a whole. “In this area, I question does (the project) make a lot of sense?” 

Experts weigh in

Subject-matter experts were on hand to help answer questions, including several members with SABR Energy Consulting, and others who helped with various assessments, including Daniel Kremer, a noise acoustics and vibration specialist with RWDI, a company based out of Calgary with a head office in Guelph, Ontario.

He and a colleague oversaw the noise and glare studies for the project and slides at the event that showed some of the initial results. For the glare study, four homeowners were required to be assessed for glare as per the AUC requirements, noted Kremer, while for noise, it was a slightly larger search area which had to include all the homes within 1.5 kilometres of the project. 

“The glare study examined the effects of glare at the four homes within 800 meters of the project, as well as looking at the potential impacts from glare along Range Road 265,” explained Kremer. “For the noise study we did include the noise effects from the existing sub-station.”

Kremer noted the reports with their results will be posted and made available to the public on the AUC website “under the proceeding for the application of the project.”

“The Westlock (County) solar project will have a proceeding — all of the environmental impacts and all of their consultation records and everything (including other assessments) will be provided on that website.”

More details come to light

In addition Clyde Carr, managing consultant with Acestes Power, was the only company rep on hand and said they were happy to answer questions and hear concerns from people. He noted the good turnout adding, “we really hope that we can help people become comfortable with it.”

“The concern that I’m hearing the most here tonight is using agricultural land (for the project),” said Carr, noting the project’s north-west quarter section of land has been under a “long-term land lease with the landowner” since last year.

Acestes Power is a small, Alberta-based company first established in 2016 and has created several projects in southern Alberta that are currently up and running and producing power. One south of the Town of Vulcan (22 megawatts) and two others in Lethbridge County, the Monarch project and the Coaldale project, are also situated on prime agricultural land and are close to a substation and are similar in size to the proposed Westlock project.

“Those three projects have been up and running since summer and fall 2022,” he said noting the company “no longer has ownership in those projects” with ownership now under a company called Concord Green Energy.

Carr noted the company did look at other areas in the region and pointed out several factors were needed for a successful project, including proximity to an electrical sub-station.  

“Fortis looked at the (Clyde sub-station) for us and it just didn’t have the capacity, but this sub-station (north of Westlock) has the capacity,” he said. “So, our project will be using up all of that available capacity so there really shouldn’t be any room for further expansion or further projects like this.”

He said although this is taking up some productive farmland, it is important for the public to know “it is limited in what can be done.”  

“There’s definitely a lot of hurdles to clear. AUC approval is a very big one and we hope to be submitting that application sometime in the next few months,” said Carr. “We believe it’s an excellent site, we did our homework before we landed on this site and we really hope that it gets approved.”

Kristine Jean,

Kristine Jean

About the Author: Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean joined the Westlock News as a reporter in February 2022. She has worked as a multimedia journalist for several publications in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and enjoys covering community news, breaking news, sports and arts.
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