EDMONTON – A plan to build 46 wind turbines to generate electricity on farming country southeast of Edmonton would set a new precedent if approved by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
The County of Provost denied development permits to BluEarth Renewables for 27 of the 46 towers that would produce 100 megawatts of windpower in its Bull Creek wind project. The neighbouring County of Wainwright has already approved permits for the remaining 19 towers in its jurisdiction.
But the utilities commission could exercise its right to overrule a municipality if it approves the $240-million project and orders the County of Provost to reverse its decision. In a letter to BluEarth, the county had said it rejected the permits because the project conflicts with existing land uses and also said “considerable opposition” to the location of the towers was expressed during public hearings in the community. The towers are 85 metres high, with three blades that take that height to 135 metres.
Despite the lack of permits, BluEarth made the unprecedented move of taking its proposal to the AUC for a 10-day hearing that wrapped up Nov. 22. The commission is expected to make its ruling early next year, 90 days after the hearing.
“Obviously, our preference is to have the community and the MD (municipal district) supportive,” said Marlo Raynolds, spokesperson for BluEarth. “But if the project is approved, we will reapply for development permits.”
BluEarth’s website says that at its peak, the Bull Creek wind farm would generate enough renewable energy to power 30,000 to 35,000 homes. Power will be sold to the Alberta Schools Commodities Purchasing Consortium and used to power many Alberta educational facilities through a long-term power purchase contract.
There was a thorough airing of residents’ concerns at the AUC hearing, said Raynolds. They included noise from the turbines, harm to human health, sleep disruption, danger to migratory birds coming through the Killarney Lake area, a “globally significant concentration of shore birds” and a high risk of bat fatalities, according to submissions to the hearing.
Charlene Hagen speaks for the Killarney Lake group of families who will have turbines around their farms if this project proceeds.
Her family runs 120 cow-calf pairs and two neighbours run about 1,000 grass-fed cattle.
All residents are concerned about noise pollution, and drew attention to some farmers in Ontario who had to leave their homes because wind turbines there caused health problems.
“Many people have lost their farms and others are still suffering as a result of BluEarth’s previous projects in Ontario,” Hagen wrote in her submission to the AUC. “We will not stand by and watch the disaster in Ontario be replicated in Alberta.”
Raynolds said the company feels there’s little scientific evidence to support concerns about harmful effects of noise, especially from low-level noise called infranoise. Also, Alberta Environment did not raise concerns about significant harm to birds, he added.
The County of Provost called for a 1,000-metre setback for the turbines, said Hagen. In Wainwright, the setback is just 550 metres.
The turbines will have a capacity of 2.4 megawatts, compared with the more common 1.8-megawatt turbines, she added.
Tyler Lawarson, chief administrative officer for the County of Provost, said the project area is rezoned for wind energy, but it is a discretionary land use. “It was a very polarizing issue,” said Lawarson, adding that if the AUC orders the county to issue development permits, local officials will comply.
Provost is 290 km southeast of Edmonton.
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