June 15th, 2024

Opposition asks for Saamis Solar to at least be scaled back

By Medicine Hat News on April 13, 2024.

@MedicineHatNews

Landowners with development aspirations near the proposed Saamis Solar park want the 1,600-acre plan stopped or scaled back to protect prospects, a regulatory hearing heard on Friday.

That could provide high-end homes north of Ranchlands, they argued, but unless the city’s growth aspirations are met, it may not occur for 20-plus years.

It was the third of four days of testimony as the Alberta Utilities Commission considers an application to build Saamis Solar in north Medicine Hat.

If built as proposed by owner DP Energy, the 325-megawatt array would be the largest in Canada.

The company says half the project is on contaminated land where residential development is prohibited, both due to land condition and by City of Medicine Hat policy on buffer zones from large plants further north.

The eastern portion, added in 2020 when the proposal was expanded, is on marginal soil that’s largely already disturbed, according to its submissions.

Local environmentalists said earlier this week that the land, north of Rotary Centennial Way, includes native grassland and several threatened species.

On Friday, owners of land further east argued if arrays extend past a line continuing north from Division Avenue, their land would lose value and could be boxed out of utility servicing.

“We’ll be prohibited from developing the property for the next 40 years,” said Rick Wahl. “If the commission doesn’t deny the project, then we propose the commission consider a scaled version of the project to west of Division Avenue, or what’s been described as the west lands.”

His company, Wahl Builders, owns six parcels near the project, totalling 476 acres. It was bought in the early 1980s, was annexed into the city in 1983, and was appraised in 2021 as worth $8.7 million.

“(They) have a high aesthetic value, situated down into the river (valley),” Wahl said. “We see it as a great area for higher end residential development.”

DP Energy argues it has a lease in place and is ready to build the project, which could be in place for 40 years before the land could be cleared for another use.

Developers Wahl and Gary Stimson, along with land-holder Bill Fanning, cited Mayor Linnsie Clark’s 2021 State of the City speech which outlined potential tax efficiencies if the city could grow to 110,000 people in the early 2040s.

Wahl said that although his land is beyond the proposed solar park, getting utility servicing to the parcel would require “leapfrogging” the land in between when the larger system is designed and built.

He told AUC commissioners there are no immediate timelines to begin a development.

The city, which is not a party to the application or an intervenor in the hearing, designates the land as “future urban development.”

It issued a development permit for the west phase in 2019 as renewable energy is a permitted use in the western portion’s zoning. That now sits in an “employment” node designated for industrial development.

The hearing’ final day of testimony next week will hear from Journey Energy, the majority owner and operator of the Glauc C oilfield, expected to argue surface development will impact its operations of the field.

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