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Solar project south of Calgary on grazing land would power 24,000 homes

Huge solar project planned in Foothills County had a packed and contentious open house last week.
People gather for an open house about the Big Rock Solar Project at East Longview Hall in Foothills County on Feb. 22.

An open house for a large-scale solar project in Foothills County drew a crowd and many questions on Thursday night. 

Enerfín Energy Company of Canada (Enerfin) hosted the open house at East Longview Hall on Feb. 22 for its Big Rock Solar Project. 

The project is proposed for 430 acres west of 64 Street West near Highway 543. With over 200,000 solar panels, it would generate 90 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 24,000 homes, and would have a 40-megawatt battery storage system. 

The open house was packed from the start, with many people gathering at the hall ahead of the 5 p.m. start time. 

Marg Brown neighbours the project site and brought several concerns to the open house, saying she's worried about impacts during construction and altered viewscapes in what she called a beautiful area. 

“Why is it not happening in a place that’s zoned industrial already, or until every rooftop in Calgary has solar panels on it?” Brown asked. 

“It’s right on the north side of Tongue Creek,” she said. “It's right on a wildlife corridor, we've seen everything from grizzly bears to herds of elk.” 

Morgan Grab, with Enerfin, said the project would be on agricultural land primarily used for grazing, with 80 cultivated acres. 

The company will adhere to Foothills County bylaws, but the project is within the jurisdiction of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), Grab said. 

The day after the open house, Janet Stephen, a nearby landowner, told the Western Wheel she was surprised to see so many people out. 

“As landowners, we're not happy with it,” Stephen said. “We're also not happy with the whole process, the lack of regulation that there is. The land has been leased by the company before we even get notification that there is anything going on.” 

Tensions and frustration rose when several people at the open house said they weren't happy with the one-on-one discussions that were taking place and called on organizers to hold an open question-and-answer session.

Foothills County Reeve Delilah Miller said the County’s role in these projects is limited to issues like land use, roads and waste. 

“Right now, it's under the same purview as any AUC application, it goes to them and it’s up to them for approval,” Miller said. 

The open house should have been held after the moratorium on renewable projects expires at the end of the month, she said. 

“They needed to wait until Premier (Danielle) Smith takes the solar and wind pause off and we get the new regulations.” 

Foothills County has lobbied hard to see changes to the way renewable energy projects are handled. 

“It's because of Foothills that the pause was put on,” Miller said. 

The County wants to see projects not allowed on productive land, wants developers to put up a bond and wants a reclamation program managed by the Province. 

“We’re working on some bylaws within the County to try and strengthen up where it may be appropriate, but we’re not there yet,” she said. 

Enerfin hopes to submit an application to the AUC in the coming months and would then seek a development permit from Foothills County, said a company spokesperson.  

On the project website, the company said the solar farm would create jobs, boost the local economy and provide tax revenue to the County. 

If approved, construction is planned to start in 2025, with the project expected to be up and running in 2026. 

Robert Korotyszyn

About the Author: Robert Korotyszyn

Robert Korotyszyn covers Okotoks and Foothills County news for and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact [email protected]
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