Southern Alberta residents worried proposed solar farm would harm important bird habitat - petsitterbank

Southern Alberta residents worried proposed solar farm would harm important bird habitat

Residents living just east of High River, Alta., are pushing back against a proposed solar farm because they’re worried it would harm one of the province’s 47 recognized Important Bird Areas (IBA).

The proposed solar farm would be built just up the road from Lacey Cosgrave’s home near Blackie, Alta., and visible from her family’s land.

“There’s people that are going to sell their homes and move because they can’t handle it coming right up to their backyard and in their mountain view,” she said, speaking on behalf of a group of neighbours.

Project could generate 150 MW

A November 2021 newsletter from Elemental Energy said the Foothills Solar Project would be located on about 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of privately owned land southwest of Blackie.

“The project is located on cultivated land and will generate up to 150 MW of electricity for the Alberta power grid,” it reads.

“Based on the preliminary design, the project includes approximately 445,000 PV modules installed on a single-axis tracking system, 54 inverter/transformer stations, an electrical collection system, internal access roads and the construction of a project substation to connect to the Alberta Interconnected electric system.”

It says construction would start as early as 2023, with commercial operations beginning later that year.

Important Bird Area

While a projected two-year construction also causes them alarm, Cosgrave says residents are most concerned with the solar farm’s proximity to Frank Lake, a restored wetland and recognized IBA that has 249 species recorded there.

Frank Lake, in blue, is located in the bottom left corner of the plan. (Submitted by Lacey Cosgrave)

“It’s just craziness that they would want to put this here because the solar panels create a lake effect where birds run into them and die — and it’s one of the most important migratory bird paths in North America,” she said.

“It just seems like a really odd spot for a solar farm … which would be within one kilometer of the Frank Lake IBA boundary.”

IBA Canada’s site says Frank Lake is “considered the most important wetland in southwestern Alberta for breeding water birds.”

The proposed site is on “prime” agricultural land, according to Cosgrave.

“I don’t understand why they would be giving up perfectly good farmable land when that is apparently going scarce around here,” she said.

“The other thing that’s quite interesting is none of the farmers that own this land that have put it up for the solar project live on the land. None of them have houses here.”

AUC yet to receive application

The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), the regulator in charge of approving such projects, says it’s aware of the proposal but has yet to receive an application.

“If and when an application is received, it will be considered in a robust, evidence-based AUC process to examine the proposal and concerns about it,” spokesman Geoff Scotton wrote in an email.

An online petition against the project has garnered more than 500 signatures.

CBC News has reached out to Elemental Energy for comment.

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