By Cole Parkinson
The ever expanding number of solar projects in the Municipal District of Taber keeps growing as another organization has aspirations of setting up shop in the area.
Aura Power looks to join several other solar projects that are coming to the M.D. as they held an open house on Dec. 7 to inform the public as to what their project would entail.
“We’re going to be developing a location just north of Taber, east of Highway 36 and just north of Township Road 104. It runs along the Taber Irrigation District canal, it’s situated on TID land as well. The project will be rated for 50 megawatts of electrical production and it will be made up of an array of ground mounted solar voltaic panels. The panels will be mounted over top of the existing vegetation and our goal there is to preserve the existing vegetation that’s on TID land,” said Victor Beda, project manager for Aura Power, in an interview with The Times. “Each of the panels will be anywhere from five to 10 feet high and the entire property will be fenced to protect both wildlife and people from the facility. In terms of equipment that will be onsite, the solar voltaic panels will have racking system components. There will be internal access roads, some control equipment along with battery equipment and electrical inverters/transformers.”
As with the other projects that have come through, Aura has been working closely with the M.D. staff to make sure they have the correct processes in place before they continue on.
The location chosen for the project was specifically marked because of the benefits it presents.
“In order to successfully develop a location for solar, a few key elements must be in place, being near the AltaLink substation is one key element. Additionally, we have the support from the Taber Irrigation District. Aura Power appreciates that the land rental payments going to the TID are something that benefits most of the local agricultural community. We have selected non-irrigable land for this project, so that irrigated land does not need to be taken out of service. After completing our biological studies we expect to have favourable recommendation from Alberta Environment and Parks. Finally, Aura Power’s solar farm would contribute to the local economy as well as the MD of Taber tax base, bringing benefits to the region. These benefits are achieved without emitting pollution and with minimal noise, which may not be the case for other agricultural or industrial projects that could be built on the same land. We will work closely with the MD to adhere to their requirements, and will ensure that this is a safe operation,” said Beda.
One of the steps that is required with these solar projects is to host an open house for the public in order to get feedback from the populace.
Beda thinks the open house is a good time to pass on knowledge of the project to those in the M.D. as well as quash any of the myths that may be out on solar facilities.
“The open house is always a good time for us to present the information about the project and dispel some of the myths that we hear circulating around. In this case, people have some ideas about the project which may not be accurate so it will be good to hear some of the concerns and try to dispel the rumours. In terms of any power generation projects, solar PV by far has the lowest impact ecologically and it also has the lowest visual profile. It doesn’t emit any pollution and it doesn’t have any moving parts. It’s an autonomous array that doesn’t bring any traffic, there will be a little bit of movement with vegetation control and when it comes to snow removal, also cleaning the panels. Even the cleaning of the panels is done with ionized water, it’s not done with any chemicals so you’re looking at a power generating facility that produces 50 megawatts that is going to have a very low impact on the land compared to anything else that could be put there.”
With the several solar facilities approved for M.D. lands, Aura has also stated there will be jobs available for locals in the construction of the solar panels with construction lasting for several months.
“We’ll definitely be hiring people locally to do correction work. We’ll bring some of our own construction experts and engineers to oversee the project but we definitely want to be hiring people to help us with a lot of the heavy lifting. So putting in the racking systems to our specifications, mounting the panels, we’d like to hire a team of people locally to do that. That will last anywhere between four to five months to get that done,” said Beda.
Right now the focus is on getting the information out to the public as well as working with local landowners to secure support for the project.
Beda says they have seen lots of support so far but there have also been some who are against the project moving forward.
He says most of the negativity that has been shown has been because they lack the necessary information as to what truly goes on in a solar facility like the one they plan to build.
“We’ve had lots of supporters, we had a few people who were neutral and we had a number of people who didn’t have the right information. They thought that we were aligned with the NDP government but we don’t have any government subsidy at this point. There were people who were concerned with us stripping all of the vegetation from the land and that is certainly not the case. We have certain strict rules that are placed upon us to ensure we do not level or strip the land of any existing vegetation and we do our best to minimize the impact on the land,” said Beda.
“Some people have this thought that this equipment is giving off harmful emissions or chemicals but it’s certainly not the case. It’s an array of glass solar panels, there are no moving parts or emission of gas or pollution.”
With the open house having since been completed, the team at Aura still have plenty of things to check off from their list before they move into the beginning phase of construction.
They still need a few more approvals before they get the green light to move on but they are hopeful that everything will checkout.
“We have to finalize a couple of things. We have to finalize a government report and a wrap up on studies done for Alberta Culture and Tourism with regard to historical assets that may or may not be on the land. After that we will be ready to prepare our package for Alberta Utilities Commission approval, so that will take approximately three to six months from the time we submit until the time we might receive our Alberta Utility Commission approval. We’re hoping to get our internal permitting phase done sometime in the spring of 2018 and hopefully if a couple of conditions align, submit our package to Alberta Utilities Commission.”
Beda says construction could begin as early as fall 2018 or as late as fall 2019 with the facility becoming fully operational in late 2019 or 2020.