Bitcoin Mining/Data Center Operation Proposed Near Carbon

Kneehill Logo 2019

The first Kneehill County Council Regular Meeting of 2024, held on January 9, was called to order at 8:30 am by Reeve Kenneth King. Present with the Reeve were Councillors Debbie Penner, Faye McGhee, Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham, Wade Christie, and CAO Mike Haugan. Councillors Carrie Fobes and Deputy Reeve Jerry Wittstock joined online.

There were several additions to the agenda, and the amended agenda was adopted unanimously. Council adopted the December 12, 2023, Council Meeting Minutes as presented.

Council’s first item was agenda item 5.1.1, Bylaw 1894, a request to amend Land Use Bylaw 1808 to redesignate a portion of SE 24-28-24 W4 and NE 13-28-24 W4 from Agricultural District to Light Industrial District. This item was presented by Planning & Development Officer Deanna Keiver. Britestone Hutterite Brethren Church is the current landowner of the parcels, located 6 miles southwest of Carbon and accessed by Highway 21. Britestone has “granted SABR Energy Consulting Inc. the authority to apply on behalf of Athill Tech Solutions Ltd. to construct and operate a 9.97-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant for bitcoin mining/data center operation.” There would be seven natural gas generators connected to 20 data centre containers, as well as an office trailer on site, directly west of Ember Resource’s existing lease. Ember Resources has approved the project. SE 24-28-24 W4 would contain the entire project, with NE 13-28-24 W4 used only for access. Council wondered how far the nearest residence is to the site, and the approximate amount the County would receive in taxes; both questions would be researched and presented at the public hearing.

Council unanimously moved the first reading of proposed Bylaw 1894 and set the public hearing for February 13, 2024, at 10:00 am.

Item 6.1 was a request for a budget increase for the Integrated Facility Condition and Asset Retirement Assessment Update, by $40K from the Contingency Reserve for a total project cost of $365K to be completed over three years. On October 24, 2023, Council approved the project for $325K.

Councillor Fobes asked why the increase was not included at the December 12 budget approval Council meeting; CAO Haugan explained that they did not have Request for Proposal submissions received at that time (they closed on December 15th) and only finished interviews on January 8 and therefore did not have the information in time for budget approval. Council entered Closed Session at 8:47 am as more information needed to be provided regarding submissions and rates that were received. Upon returning to Open Session at 8:57 am Council carried the motion unanimously to use $40K from the Contingency Reserve for a project total of $365K.

Completing the facility assessments at the same time as the assessment retirement obligations saves costs in the long run; it is a new requirement of the MGA to ensure that liabilities are accounted for and that assets are available for maintenance costs over the lifetime of a facility. This ensures the County is fiscally proactive and not reactive; the more the County can understand maintenance cycles and needs of buildings they will reduce the budget in the future and have proper timelines for maintenance. Buildings of similar age and usage will be assessed together. In the end, the County will have a tool or template to use going forward that will be continually updated to help understand conditions and maintenance needs of all County buildings.

Item 7.1, Master Rates Bylaw 1893, was presented by Legislative Services Coordinator Carolyn Van der Kuil. Rates and Fees are updated annually as part of the budgeting process. Changes for 2024:

Water changes and flat maintenance rates to align with 2024 Operating and Capital Budget

Wind farm energy conversion systems renamed to match Draft Land Use Bylaw

Building & development permit fees updated

Weed control and management fees updated

Meter installation costs amended for better clarity

Campground fees updated to avoid redundancy and better clarity.

Council unanimously passed all three readings of Bylaw 1893, as presented. Interested ratepayers can see a detailed look at the changes in Council’s agenda package, posted on the County webpage.

Item 7.2, Tourism Advocacy Summit 2024, was presented by CAO Mike Haugan, a motion that Council approve the attendance of Councillor McGhee and Councillor Christie to the Tourism Advocacy Summit held in Edmonton on February 4-6, 2024.

Breakout session topics include: Tourism zone development insights, air access capacity, destination reputation management, tomorrow’s traveller, predictive analysis, public lands access, citizen engagement, and meeting ESG expectations.

A long discussion ensued, with Councillors Fobes and Cunningham unable to justify the cost of attendance. With registration, accommodations, meals, mileage, and per diem all included it was estimated that the cost would be approximately $2,500 per Councillor attending (registration is $899.00 per attendee). CAO Mike Haugan noted there is $177K already in the budget for such events, in addition to $25K for mileage, $40K for other expenses, and $30K for registration to conferences—these numbers are all based on historical spending.

Councillor McGhee, as a Director for The Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP), wanted to attend the summit to gain knowledge to move tourism forward in both Kneehill County and as she works with the CAEP Board and Executive team. As well, she noted that the connections and contacts made at these types of events can be very beneficial. While Fobes dismissed summits such as these as being urban-focused, McGhee commented “A good way to be part of the story is to attend and make our [rural] story known.”

Councillor Christie sits on the Community Futures Wildrose board and is the only director from CFWR able to attend; he felt it would be beneficial to attend for both the County and Community Futures.

Kevin Gannon, Director of Community Services, would also be attending and felt many of the presentations relate directly to areas the County wishes to go—marketing, tourism etc.

Councillor Penner thanked Councillors McGhee and Christie for their willingness to attend the summit, for both the County and as they sit on the CAEP and CFWR boards. She noted that it sometimes takes a long time to see a “benefit” of attending an event, but “if you can pick up one thing from any convention or meeting you go to, that’s valuable.” She motioned to have Councillors McGhee and Christie attend the Tourism Advocacy Summit 2024. The motion was passed; Councillor Cunningham voted against the motion.

New agenda item 7.3 was a brief introduction to a topic Reeve King would like to bring to the next Committee of the Whole meeting. This potential resolution came out of a meeting Reeve King held with MLA and Speaker Nathan Cooper regarding green energy and its impact on the County and on the grid. King and Cooper discussed whether there could be a way to legislate a baseline power requirement that producers either buy or supply to increase the power grid’s stability. Council did not spend much time discussing this item but were very interested; they will have a fulsome discussion in an upcoming Committee of the Whole Meeting. Councillor Cunningham mentioned that interested ratepayers could visit or Reliable AB Energy on “X (Twitter)” to see where Alberta’s power generation is coming from at any given moment.

Item 9.1 was a summary of Aqua 7’s November 2nd meeting, presented by Aqua 7 Chairman Jerry Wittstock. Aqua 7 approved a budget and held their Organizational Meeting, naming Wittstock as Chairman and Bruce McLeod, Mayor of Acme, as Vice Chairman. Water rates are set at $3.49/cubic metre, with $0.06/cubic metre being placed in the Capital Replacement Reserve. Wittstock noted there are magnesium scours in the line and they are looking into options and costs for scrubbing the lines. As well, the Town of Trochu sent a letter expressing interest in potentially connecting to the Aqua 7 Regional Water Commission pipeline as the Town of Three Hills is increasing its water rates and Trochu is exploring other options. Council noted it would be a big cost to connect, with the connection point likely being the corner of Highway 575 and Highway 21.

Councillor Debbie Penner presented her Division 2 Report which dealt with Drumheller and District Solid Waste Association. She noted that the landfill is mandated to join EPR, but costs have not yet been shared with landfills.

Councillor Wade Christie shared a brief Community Futures update, agenda item 9.3 after his Economic Development Committee and Directors meeting. He noted that the Yeti program is looking for students for the summer; they have room for 4-5 students and it has been a big success in the past. Schools can request presentations from CFWR to get students informed and interested.

Council received the Council and Committee Reports for info as presented.

At 10:00 am Council had a delegation from STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) Air Ambulance, providing an annual update and request for increased funding. STARS is celebrating its 40 anniversary in 2025 and has celebrated with a re-brand. STARS’ motto is “Critical Care, Anywhere”.

STARS has six bases: Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. Each base has a $10M annual operating cost. In the past, the Government of Alberta has contributed 20% of STARS operating costs; STARS is very pleased to have a 10-year deal pending with AHS for 50% of operating costs to be covered by the Government. Including education, administration, and training costs, $28M needs to be fundraised annually. The annual STARS lottery which opens to the public on January 18 nets $10M-$12M, leaving $18M that still needs to be raised. Municipality support nets $2M annually. Funds raised in Alberta stay in Alberta.

Kneehill County has supported STARS since 1988. The County has given $3,000 annually for several years; STARS is asking for $5,000 in 2024, equivalent to $1 per capita. Many counties across the Province have a minimum annual giving amount of $2 per capita. STARS’ ask for the County in 2025 is $7,500, representing $1.50 per capita.

There have been 195 STARS missions flown in Kneehill County since 2010. Of those 195, 144 were for Kneehill residents. In 2023, 17 Kneehill County residents rode the big red helicopter; there were 21 STARS missions in Kneehill in 2023. Of the 21 missions in Kneehill in 2023, three occurred near Acme, two near Linden, one near Torrington, and 15 were critical inter-facility transfers from the Three Hills Hospital, generally from a ground ambulance. Historically there have been an average of 13-14 missions in Kneehill annually which totals $120K-$140K per year in mission-related costs in the County. Because of these costs, STARS is proposing that the County get to $2 per capita in support by 2026.

There are 9-10 STARS missions every day, half of those in Alberta alone. “A life is saved every day and partnership makes it possible.”

Council moved, with all in favour, to contribute $5,000 to STARS for 2024 (rather than $3,000) with the additional funds coming from the Council Contingency fund (contains $25K) in the Operating Budget. This is not adding to the budget but moving money from one area to another. Council also moved to have STARS present to the Kneehill Regional Partnership so that all municipalities within Kneehill County can hear from STARS at one time, rather than several trips and presentations for the STARS personnel, and so that all Kneehill representatives can then bring the infofrom STARS back to their Councils.

Councillor McGhee did express concern that health services are being downgraded more and more and that ratepayers are then expected to pick up the slack. This came out of Council’s discussion around smaller hospitals having levels of service cut, requiring patients to travel further and on their own expense to larger centres to get the care they require, whether by STARS or by ground ambulance. CAO Haugan noted that he would look into how STARS inter-facility transfer billing is handled.

Discussing their Follow-Up Action List, Reeve King mentioned that they still had not heard back from Capstone Infrastructure with the information Council requested: a list of community benefits, Capstone community involvement and initiatives, a tax revenue amount from the wind project, or a list of land owners who support wind projects and live in the area. Capstone will again be asked for this information.

Councillor Fobes asked CAO Haugan if the 4th Quarter Actuals she requested on December 12 are ready - he responded that they would be available soon. Council received the list as presented.

Council entered Closed Session to discuss items covered under FOIP 17 (Personnel Update) and FOIP 19 (Confidential Evaluations) at 11:10 am. They returned to an open meeting at 12:38 pm and having no motions from Closed Session, adjourned the January 9/24, Regular Council Meeting at 12:42 pm.

The next Regular Meeting of Kneehill County Council is scheduled for February 13, 2024, at 8:30 am..