Should a large Solar farm be considered Agriculture?

To the Editor;

Should a large Solar farm be considered Agriculture?

On August 21, 2018 Kneehill County’s Municipal Planning Committee (MPC) approved a Development Permit for a Solar Energy project that covers an entire quarter section (160 acres) of “prime” farmland approximately 2 miles North West of Three Hills. There are also plans on the table to at least double the size of that project!

It is important to note, that Kneehill County’s Municipal Planning Committee (MPC) is comprised of all the Members of Council and one Member at Large, making the decisions of MPC the same as the wishes of Council.

Did MPC consider the long-term benefits of this project against the potential long-term negatives?

What are the long-term benefits? Many jurisdictions internationally have adopted laws that prohibits the local authority from assessing and taxing solar panels as a source of revenue, citing “what is the benefit of Solar energy, if the savings are offset by increased taxes.” Power Generation facilities are considered linear tax, not directly or guaranteed to be paid to the Municipality. We as early as next year may see a change of government in Alberta. What will that bring ? This Kneehill Solar energy project is currently dependant on a contract with/to our Provincial Government in its goal to power 50% of Alberta Government Buildings with alternative/renewable generated electricity. Governments and Contracts change! The only parties guaranteed to benefit at the onset are the land owner and possibly the corporations building the project…and that is not assured either, as evidenced by acres upon acres of abandoned solar farms in the USA with no land owner or corporations to be found and to be held accountable for the remediation plans and the resulting massive amounts of wasted agricultural land.

Have the long-term benefits and remediation plans and/or guarantees for the current wind towers in Kneehill County been looked at, to see how we can do things different and/or better? Or are we content to trip over the same stone again?

Although the original application by Kronos Solar was turned down by Kneehill County citing concerns of taxpayer subsidies going to a foreign corporation. Has the corporate structure and ownership of Kneehill Solar GP Inc. been explored prior this approval? Samsung CT is for sure not owned for the most part by Canadians. At the recent open house (September 20th) in Three Hills ATCO seemed to take ownership of this project, citing they are born and raised in Alberta and care about Alberta, and that for the most part may be true and evidenced by their community involvement. But big business is big business…. They along with their partners are not in the business of losing money, and therefore have built-in business structures that allow them to distance themselves from liability should the financial viability of large projects start to evaporate! We need some sort of monetary assurance that if and when big business walks away…The land can be restored to agriculture without taxpayer money!

Have the environmental risks been evaluated ? Do we know what toxic and harmful materials are used or produced in the production of these solar panels ? Cadmium Telluride, Copper Indium Selenide, and Silicone Tetrachloride to name a few. Samsung CT does not even have a rating on the solar panel manufacture’s Solar Scorecard produced by the Silicone Valley Toxins Coalition, a respected leader in protecting the interests of “workers, communities and the environment” internationally.

Even most full environmental reports do not typically take into consideration the possibility of a tornado leaving behind a swath of smashed and exposed solar panels, and, along with weather events of that sort, usually come rain…lots of it to wash it away into adjoining properties ! But Tornados never happen just north of Three Hills…right?

Why is “solar/alternative energy” noticeably absent from the list of developments that require a “full environmental review” prior to approval in Kneehill County?

There are several references in the Kneehill County Municipal Development Plan bylaw 1735 recently passed by Council on July 27,2018 including in the “Purpose of the Plan” (page 3) that are clear …The majority of our land is zoned for agriculture uses allowing us to enjoy a rural way of life and community…. and further on that page ….that future growth is sustainable, orderly, appropriate, complementary, efficient and enhances the quality of life for the citizens of Kneehill County.

Page 4 of the Kneehill County Municipal Development Plan makes note of the Section 632 of the Municipal Government Act as the Enabling Legislature, and clearly under (f) of that section says…. (f) must contain policies respecting the protection of agricultural operations.

Kneehill County’s own Land Use Bylaw notes in the Agriculture District (A) “Purpose” To preserve Better Agricultural Land and to provide areas for the conduct, accommodation, and continuation of a wide-range of agricultural and compatible uses. Listed in the description section of this Land use Bylaw is “Better Agricultural Land” means Canada Land Inventory Capability for Agricultural classifications 1 to 3 and/or a Farmland Assessment Rating (FAR) of 41 percent or more. These ratings are subject to confirmation by detailed site and soil investigation and interpretation by the Development Authority. Kneehill County is the Development Authority in this case.

Most topics, opinions, and decisions in life and politics are disputable and most interpretations regarding right or wrong are commonly disputed in various theatres and courts. Those theatres for politics and government include both the Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion !

I am not opposed to Development inside the borders of Kneehill County, in fact acknowledge that Commercial and other Development is the very reason we are blessed with a great balance sheet, and low agriculture and residential mill rates in Kneehill County. But development should occur in a fashion that respects the land, and there is lots of land in Kneehill County that is better suited for this development. Those lands may not suit the developer, as distance to substations, topography, etc. may pose a hurdle, but our Council’s concerns and obligations should be focused on the wishes and future of the people, and the land we choose to live on or near to, not the benefit of the Developer!

I do not have all the answers, and realize without some risk, there is seldom gain, BUT PLEASE… Kneehill County Council, and as such the MPC, consider as much of the available data, options, and public opinion as possible BEFORE you make decisions that may have an impact on generations to come!

Paul Devos

Kneehill County/Division 6