May 20th, 2024

Wind farm near Cypress Hills first to be tested on ‘view scapes’

By Collin Gallant on April 26, 2024.

A wind farm approved between Medicine Hat and the Cypress Hills is now looking at further evaluation thanks to new rules introduced by the provincial government.--SUPPLIED IMAGE

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A new process to evaluate how wind turbines affect “pristine view scapes” will be first put to the test next week on a proposed wind farm south of Medicine Hat.

That could include an in-person visit to the Horseshoe Canyon lookout by regulators to see for themselves if the Wildrose 2 wind farm would obscure the panorama seen from the Cypress Hills.

It is one of several areas outlined by the provincial government last month as requiring visual analysis to be done before approving wind generation facilities that typically involve towers between 60 and 120 metres tall.

The developer, however, argued that its information on views has already been submitted, the new regulations are ill-defined and the project is already approved. Any regulations stemming from the provincial pause on projects are supposed to only be applied to “new” projects.

In response, the Alberta Utilities Commission stated it has the authority to consider ministerial direction.

“Taking into account prior practice and principles of procedural fairness, the ‘pause announcements’ should be interpreted in a current practice and limited to their explicit terms,” reads a submission from Capstone Infrastructure provided by law firm Blakes.

The 18-year-old Wild Rose proposal – to build a 200-megawatt wind farm along the Eagle Butte Road about 25 kilometres south of Medicine Hat – was revived several years ago when it was purchased by Capstone Infrastructure.

Due to the long delay from the 2007 approval, however Alberta regulators required updated application information. That was in process last spring when the province halted approvals while developing rules around remediation, agriculture use and “pristine view scapes.”

Those zones include the Cypress Hills, though the company argued in filings last month that the new “view” requirement is ill-defined, still being developed and could place unfair burden on the project, which was previously approved.

The pause ended Feb. 28 with a series of policy statements and orders for regulators to determine policy this year in three main areas.

On March 15, Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf released the 35-kilometre buffer-zone map that had been leaked to the media.

Capstone argues the map is a mark “draft” and shouldn’t be considered official.

“The Commission’s position is that it must consider stated government policy on a matter directly before it on an application, including an application amendment, when making its overall public interest determination,” the AUC stated in response to Capstone’s application. “While such policy is not binding, it can play a role in the Commission’s ultimate public interest determination.”

Capstone said that failing an immediate decision, an alternate “expedited” process could involve a two-week period when parties, including a group of intervenors and local landowners, could exchange information and oral arguments made on May 10.

Eight Cypress County residents in the vicinity are registered intervenors and requested new participation.

The group, known as the Eagle Butte Landowners group, and Capstone both submitted a list of potential sites that could be used to judge visual impact.

The new project layout released last year reduces the number of turbine towers from 60 to 38, along Eagle Butte Road near the intersection with Township Road 102.

Capstone states that the nearest turbine to the park boundary is 14 kilometres, and previously submitted visual impact study that, at that distance, a turbine tower 300-feet in height would appear in similar proportions as a mature tree viewed from 2 kilometres.

The company has entered into agreement to sell the produced power to Pembina Pipelines and the City of Edmonton as they seek to reduce carbon footprint.

Capstone lawyers also argue the company has already built two substations required for the project, and is storing construction material and components.

Capstone recently completed the Buffalo-Atlee complex of wind facilities northwest of CFB Suffield. The Toronto-based power firm also owns and operates the Riverhurst Wind Farm in Saskatchewan and three solar facilities in Alberta as part of a national portfolio.

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