Recent changes to a proposed wind farm in Cardston County have been met with renewed skepticism by a group of local residents who oppose the project.
The changes include fewer proposed wind turbines, smaller project boundaries and significantly more public outreach, according to Keith Yasinski, director of renewable energy projects at the Calgary-based electrical utility, TransAlta Corp.
TransAlta hopes to build a 300-megawatt wind farm, dubbed the Riplinger Wind Power Project, over roughly 14,000 hectares of private land between the village of Hill Spring to the north and the hamlet of Mountain View to the south.
Opponents rallied around a Facebook group known as the Riplinger Wind Project Concerned Citizens, which has gathered over 750 social media followers since TransAlta began notifying county stakeholders in the new year.
Up to 85 people have attended the RWPCC’s meetings in Hill Spring, according to Mountain View resident Angela Tabak, who chairs the group and was among a small group of demonstrators outside TransAlta’s February open house at the Hill Spring Community Centre.
Sticking to her guns in an interview Tuesday with Shootin’ the Breeze, Tabak highlighted Riplinger’s proximity to Waterton Biosphere Reserve (recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for its ecologically sensitive wildlife habitat) and to Waterton Lakes National Park farther southwest.
“From the very beginning, we’ve tried to keep our messaging away from an argument that says whether renewable energy is good or bad,” she said, qualifying that, “The issue has to do with the regulations around the siting of these large [wind energy] projects” across Alberta.
A project map in TransAlta’s December 2022 newsletter shows that Riplinger would traverse sections of the Belly River and Mami Creek, waterways that feed into the Old Man River Watershed.
“If a big corporation can put a wind farm here, they can put one anywhere in the province,” she warned.
Speaking with the Breeze on Monday, Yasinski acknowledged that TransAlta heard concerns from local residents at the Hill Spring forum including potential hydrological and environmental impacts (especially to migratory birds), unsightly wind turbines, potential disruptions to irrigation lines, and that Riplinger was sited too close to Hill Spring.
A number of residents also said they were frustrated that the company had met only basic notification requirements set by the Alberta Utilities Commission, the independent regulatory body that oversees renewable projects in conjunction with the Alberta Electric System Operator, which manages the province’s electrical grid.
In response, Yasinski said TransAlta cut the number of Riplinger turbines from around 50 to 47.
The company’s December newsletter suggested the wind farm would include “up to 46 wind turbine generators,” with an infographic in the same newsletter calling for 45 to 50 turbines.
TransAlta has scaled back the project’s border with Hill Spring from one kilometre to 1.8 kilometres, according to communications lead Matthew Gray.
At the same time, Yasinski said the company has nearly doubled its Riplinger mailing list, starting in May, sending project newsletters to all residents with Hill Spring and Mountain View postal codes.
“Even with the changes, it’s still going to have a huge impact on the area – not in a good way,” Tabak told the Breeze, insisting the project’s “Calgary-sized” turbines (195 metres high, according to TransAlta’s May newsletter) would blight the landscape.
Tabak also raised concerns that county roadways aren’t big enough for trucks to bring the turbines on-site.
On this point, Yasinski said TransAlta won’t build any new paved roads for the project. Gray later specified that TransAlta is looking at adding 2.2 kilometres of new unpaved roads in Cardston County to accommodate site construction.
At least 3.2 kilometres of existing county roads will be upgraded to accommodate construction, plus an unspecified length of upgrades at existing intersections to allow for on-site turbine delivery, Gray continued.
TransAlta hopes to have Riplinger operational by late 2024. It has submitted environmental assessments to Alberta’s Environment Ministry, and hopes to submit its application to the AUC this summer.
The finished wind farm would likely employ between 12 and 19 maintenance staff, according to Gray.
Tabak said she’ll be there when TransAlta hosts a followup open house at the Hill Spring Community Centre next Wednesday, June 14.
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