ST. PAUL – County of St. Paul County Council has moved forward with the first reading of two pieces of documentation in hopes of being ahead of the game should an alternative energy system company officially come knocking on the municipality’s door.
Amendments to the County’s Land Use Bylaw and Municipal Development Plan are now in play with advertising of the proposed amendments followed by public hearings being the next steps.
The move to beef up the County’s land use and municipal development plans in respect to alternative energy systems comes on the heels of ratepayer concern being expressed over a proposed commercial wind power generation project in Division 2 by Ontario-based developer Northland Power.
While the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has overarching approval on such development superseding that of the municipality’s, council directed administration last month to provide amendments to the municipal regulatory framework to ensure the County at least has some input on the scope of such projects and the ability to mitigate potential impacts to municipal infrastructure and adjacent landowners.
“They trump us,” CAO Sheila Kitz told council of the AUC as council discussed changes to the Land Use Bylaw last Tuesday.
In presenting the proposed amendments, administration noted in its preamble that energy development “can have positive economic impact on residents and business” through “income generation opportunities, lowering household/business operating costs, increasing taxable assessment, generating employment and business opportunities.”
However, depending on the type and scale of a project, administration also recognized these energy development “can have socio-economic, land use and environmental impacts requiring mitigation.”
By amending its existing land use framework and municipal, the County is hoping to retain some controls over these types of developments within their borders.
Walking a fine line
Gary Buchanan from the County’s Planning and Development department advised council to recognize that the municipality is walking a fine line between complying with the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requirements and limitations which grants authority to provincial bodies such as the AUC over commercial energy projects, while also ensuring the interests of the County and its ratepayers are considered.
“You have to operate under that umbrella,” Buchanan said of the MGA. “At the same time, you need to bring forward the concerns of ourselves as the County, whether it’s ratepayer-driven or council-driven to the proponent,” of the project.
Meanwhile, Buchanan said the developer needs to fulfill AUC legislative requirements and satisfy the municipality and its concerns.
“There is going to be some give and take in that regard. What we don’t want to do is lead people to believe that we are the ultimate authority because we are not. Tell us what your concern is, we can act as a spokesperson on your behalf to the applicant and hopefully we can mitigate it in some fashion that way.”
Coun. Dale Hedrick said while he acknowledged the AUC has the final say, the provincial standards may not be the same standards that ratepayers in the County expect but based on provincial legislation they have little alternative but to live with them.
“AUC, they set the standards, then you have your ratepayers out there that throw their hands up because these guys are saying ‘no, that’s good’,” Hedrick said.
“I’m not saying it’s the right system, but it’s the one we have to operate within,” Buchanan said.
Coun. Kevin Wirsta suggested the local bylaw should make mention of “sound blankets” to mitigate noise concerns particularly during the construction phase of commercial projects.
“If it’s not in there, they won’t recognize it,” he said, explaining various types of soundproofing methods can be used reduce noise.
Council agreed it should be included in the revised land use document which will contain a detailed section several pages in length specific to alternate energy project development. Items specific to the protection of agricultural lands, public consultation, safety, noise, decommissioning, setbacks, fire protection, density among others are addressed in the amended legislation.
While Kitz did mention administration had recently met with Northland Power, she did not elaborate during Tuesday’s public council meeting as to what was discussed.
Reeve Glen Ockerman later told Lakeland This Week that he did not participate in the meeting himself, but that it was his understanding it was a preliminary discussion and took place as a result of council asking administration to contact Northland Power to find out at what stage the local project was.
“We all heard about it, but nobody ever contacted us,” Ockerman said of the proposed wind project. “We told administration find out what’s happening. Do they have a project here or not? What’s the time schedule?”
Asked what his understanding was of what came out of the meeting with Northland Power, Ockerman suggested there was little new information.
“They are looking but before they get going, they are going to have their public consultation. They are looking at this area. They’ve done some research into whether it’s feasible or not and they don’t have no applications forward yet.”
Ockerman said the company had little to tell them beyond that at this point. “So, it was a very short discussion.”
Northland Power has not responded to requests from Lakeland This Week for updated information on the project.
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