Debate over contentious river valley solar farm proposal extends to third day as city councillors hear from 55 speakers

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The electric debate over a controversial solar farm in Edmonton’s river valley will carry over to a third day before city councillors vote on the future of the project.

Councillors heard from 55 speakers over the two-day public hearing — 32 in opposition — on Epcor’s plan for a 45,000-panel solar farm across 21 hectares of land next to the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant in the city’s southwest. If approved, the $26-million solar farm will generate renewable energy to help power the plant. It is intended to reduce the plant’s power consumption from the electrical grid by 21 per cent.

Arguments against the solar power project presented Tuesday centred around its potential impact on wildlife, the North Saskatchewan River and the long-term sustainability of the river valley. Environmental impact assessments determined the solar farm would reduce access to wildlife by 19.7 hectares and is also expected to increase the risk of injury or death to wildlife as a result of bird collisions into the solar panels and entrapment.


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Harvey Voogd with the North Saskatchewan River Valley Conservation Society argued industrial use shouldn’t be permitted in the river valley and that the project isn’t essential. He said investment in solar energy isn’t the concern, but the proposed location isn’t the right spot.

“This location should not be deemed essential for a solar power plant. The sun does not shine brighter here. There is no shortage of land elsewhere for such a project,” he said. “The location may be financially good for Epcor, but its rezoning would come at a high cost for citizens in the river valley. Edmonton has one river valley and as the city grows from one to two million, its value as a ribbon of green for natural areas, recreation, wildlife, trees and plants will only grow.”

Other concerns offered Tuesday focused on the site’s history as an Indigenous gathering place where ceremonies were long held. Enoch Cree Nation’s council voted to formally support the project after extensive review of the archaeological evidence, but Coun. Lyle Morin voted against that decision, arguing the land traces back to the location of former sun dance grounds and a burial site.

“The historical significance of that area we should be very proud of. I know I am. It’s one of the oldest that we have,” he told councillors Tuesday. “A lot of our people came from all over the place and this was the highway. This was the meeting spot. It’s just that spot, I know historically, that people were there. That’s where we celebrated, that’s where we did our sun dances and it goes way back. That should be an historical site.”


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Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) spokesman Theo Peters said since the public hearing started last Tuesday, their position on the proposal has flipped to positive after Epcor gave an opportunity for the nation to provide continual input as the project unfolds.

“Since our registration in the initial public hearing and much to their credit, the proponent Epcor proactively reached out to the MNA to engage and better understand our concerns,” he said. “They have committed to ongoing engagement with the MNA consultation office for the lifetime of the project.”

Epcor president and CEO Stuart Lee was the final speaker Tuesday, advocating for the renewable energy project as a step to address the impacts of climate change. He said no renewable projects are perfect, but Epcor has worked to mitigate the risks as much as possible.

“I think it’s a must-have if we’re serious about climate change,” Lee told councillors. “We fully understand the emotional ties to the river valley, but it would be a mistake to turn our back on science.”

The rezoning discussion will continue next Monday, when councillors will have the opportunity to question city officials before making a decision. 


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