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County considers plan, bylaw amendments for renewable energy

Mountain View County administration is aware of companies that are approaching landowners to lease agricultural land with the intent to develop large-scale solar projects, said the county's director of planning
MVT Innisfail Solar Farm aerial
An aerial view of a 25.4 megawatt solar power project located in Red Deer County on land owned by the Town of Innisfail completed in November 2020. Photo courtesy of Alberta government

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Council has passed a motion directing administration to bring forward proposed municipal development plan (MDP) and land use bylaw amendments through the public hearing process to address future renewable energy development on agricultural land. 

The move came by way of motion at a recent regularly scheduled council meeting, held in person and on Zoom.

“Administration is aware of companies that are approaching landowners to lease agricultural land with the intent to develop large-scale solar projects,” said Margaretha Bloem, director of planning.  “A few companies have made preliminary inquiries, but no formal development permit applications have been submitted.

“There aren’t any specific policies related to these alternative energy (projects) within the MDP.”

Renewable energy developments that generate electricity to supply to the grid are required to have Alberta Utility Commission (AUC) approval. Depending on the proposal, they may also require Alberta Environment approvals.

The provincial Municipal Government Act requires municipalities to approve development consistent with AUC approvals.

“To provide clear policy direction to landowners, potential applicants and county response to AUC applications, administration is recommending a municipal development plan policy be added to address renewable energy and policy criteria already established to direct renewable energy developments to areas of lower class soils and no environmentally sensitive areas,” she said.

At the same time, administration is recommending an amendment to the land use bylaw that would require an applicant to obtain provincial approvals prior to application submission.

Coun. Peggy Johnson said, “I think this is really important and I’m really glad to see it on the agenda. Certainly I would support the idea of moving this forward. I think it deserves attention based on its own merits.”

Coun. Greg Harris said a public education process on the issue of renewable energy projects would be helpful.

Reeve Angela Aalbers said, “I don’t see a downside to this. I think this is showing that we are still trying to protect agricultural land as much as we can.”

Public hearings are required to amend the municipal development plan and the land use bylaw.

When first reading of the proposed amendments are brought forward to council, administration will outline plans for public engagement and education on the issue, said Jeff Holmes, the county's chief administrative officer.

Dan Singleton

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