Putting solar panels in Edmonton’s river valley instead of another local site will save Epcor roughly $19 million – but a wind farm would be cheaper still.
Epcor promised to build a local renewable energy option in its last rate-setting deal with the city. It told council’s utility committee Thursday that putting the solar farm next to its water treatment facility in the North Saskatchewan River valley is $19 million cheaper than building on purchased land somewhere else in Edmonton.
But paying for a new wind farm somewhere in southern Alberta would be even cheaper. That would save ratepayers $5.7 million, said community advocates pointing to other numbers in Epcor’s report.
“We spent the last century de-industrializing the river valley,” said the River Valley Conservation Coalition’s Raquel Feroe, objecting to a plan to fence off 45,000 solar panels within view of the bike paths.
“I’m paying for this twice,” she said. “I’m paying as a ratepayer and I’m paying by losing river valley land that is dear and significant. We need to value the river valley land properly.”
Five community advocates spoke at the committee meeting Thursday, asking them to lift the requirement for the energy to be local and simply go with the most reasonable, sustainable option.
Epcor presented a triple bottom-line analysis Thursday. It looked at the ecological value of different kinds of land, then said it was impossible to put a dollar value on the specific river valley land in question. However, the river valley land would have to be worth $52,000 per hectare per year to make that option comparable to building solar somewhere else in Edmonton.
Putting solar panels in the river valley will allow Epcor to showcase renewable energy to people jogging and cycling, and won’t cause significant environmental harm, said senior vice-president Guy Bridgeman.
“We think it creates momentum … and at a reasonable cost,” he said. “We think the (solar farm beside the E.L. Smith site) is the best and it’s also the lowest cost option.”
Councillors on the utility committee simply received the report for information. They’ll have to give approval as a regulator at a later date and on a rezoning application this fall.
Coun. Ben Henderson said he wants to be really sure they know exactly what value Epcor and the city get if they choose to spend $5 million more and use river valley land for the solar farm. “It is a question at least a number of us are asking.”
The solar farm would being paid for by a $1.9-million annual levy on Edmonton ratepayers.