The Alberta Utilities Commission has approved a major wind farm in Vulcan County, with a list of conditions, saying “the negative impacts of the project can be mitigated to an acceptable degree and are outweighed by the benefits of the project.”
The project by a subsidiary of ABO Wind includes 83 wind turbines on 7,080 hectares of privately owned farmland near Lomond, Alta., about 175 kilometres southeast of Calgary.
Many landowners in the area joined together to fight the application, and despite their loss, they still consider it a win.
“There’s reason to celebrate … we faced a subsidiary company of an international, multinational big business and we faced down the local county council and we made some people blink,” said Lavinia Henderson, whose family farm will be within about 800 metres of a wind turbine.
Henderson is with Lomond Opposing Wind Projects, a group representing 165 landowners, five companies and the Village of Lomond. It raised concerns regarding adverse economic, social and environmental impacts during a hearing last fall.
They worry about, among other things, noise, unsightly views, interference with aerial crop spraying and subsequently lower crop yields, bird mortality and a phenomenon known as “shadow flicker,” which occurs when the sun casts a moving shadow as it shines through rotating blades.
Henderson says the process forced her to dig into a daunting regulatory process, but she feels the group has come out wiser and stronger.
“There’s no doubt I’m disappointed, but I don’t feel defeated. There’s optimism that there’s going to be change starting happening” said Henderson.
An ‘energy transition’
CBC News reached out to ABO Wind regarding this decision. The company said it wasn’t able to respond in time for publication and referred CBC News to its press release:
“Alberta is in the process of an energy transition, triggered by a desire to diversify electricity supply and reduce carbon emissions. Buffalo Plains Wind Farm could help lead this transition in the province. Alberta continues to be a leader in the energy industry, and ABO Wind is excited to meaningfully contribute to this growing industry within this great province.”
It also says the project would displace approximately 795,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and would provide enough power for the equivalent of 240,000 Alberta homes.
In the Alberta Utilities Commission’s roughly 70-page decision, it says it must consider whether the project is in the public’s interest and weigh the benefits against the negative impacts.
The AUC, which is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of the province of Alberta, says it considers that the public interest will be largely met if an application complies with existing regulatory standards.
The AUC mentions the project’s local economic benefits, through job creation and tax revenues, as well as more broadly through the diversification of electricity generation.
“While a landowner in Alberta may be faced with situations where development (industrial or commercial) nearby may result in their property being devalued, this is a risk borne by all landowners in general,” the AUC says.
“In these circumstances, the potential for one person’s property to devalue does not generally override or sterilize the ability for their neighbouring landowners to choose how to lawfully use their land.”
In the end, the project was approved with a list of 12 conditions aimed at mitigating the landowners’ concerns.
For one, the company must notify the AUC with regards to complaints about flicker within the first 12 months of operation, as well as its response.
ABO Wind must also work with landowners to shut off its turbines with respect to aerial crop spraying upon notification.
Restrictions have been placed on road use around the local cemetery and along school bus routes.
“The rejection, of course, as I continually say, would be the best, but I think there were some wins there,” said Henderson.
She says she hopes their fight will serve as a lesson to other Albertans who may find themselves in a similar fight in the future.
She says she wishes they would have invested in hiring experts as opposed to relying on their own testimony and research.
“Take the chance. If you’ve got a big enough group, you can spread that financial burden across many,” said Henderson.
The project is expected to be completed by April 30, 2024.
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