Peace Butte Solar and BESS given green light

After a 7 month moratorium on solar decisions by the Albertan Utilities Commission, our solar PV and BESS project in Alberta has been approved.

March 22, 2024

Our Peace Butte solar and battery project in Alberta has officially received the green light. It's a relieving moment as this marks the first solar park approval in Alberta since the Alberta Utilities Commission implemented new rules after a seven-month pause.

The project comprises 200MW of solar generation, enough to power over 26,000 Albertan homes each year with emission free energy, and a 75MW/200MWh battery storage, to store electricity from the provincial grid at times of low demand and discharge power back to the grid when demand is high. It is calculated to save over 60,000 tonnes of CO2 compared to electricity generated by gas. Located approximately 30km south of Medicine Hat, away from cities and towns, the project will connect directly into AltaLink's existing transmission line that runs directly across the site.

Aura Power have been developing the project since 2019 and submitted the project for approval last August. Shortly after, the AUC announced a moratorium on all new solar applications to develop new rules for reclamation security, visual impact, soil productivity and participation in hearings.

The project was approved this week with the decision stating the new rules either do not apply or were satisfied in the original application.

Victor Beda, our Country Manager said "This is a significant breakthrough and we are gaining clarity on how to move forward. Approvals are now being issued by the Commission, demonstrating the viability of solar and the benefit to Albertans. We are excited by the prospect of more of our projects being approved in Alberta which greatly supports the transition to a fully renewable energy grid"

The solar industry in Alberta have been eagerly awaiting the AUC's decision to move forward with solar development which the industry has entered a hold mode, slowing down development in the province. Construction was initially anticipated to begin at the end of the year however this will likely be prolonged to allow progress to catch up since following the moratorium.

On Feb.28, Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf announced that an “agriculture first” policy would be put in place, requiring applicants to prove agricultural productivity could be maintained on applications located on Class 1 and 2 soil types.

Requirements for visual impact assessments outlined impact zones for wind turbines near some provincial parks and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. A process to ensure reclamation – previously dealt with in lease agreements with land owners, according to the power industry – is still to be determined.

That was not, however, a factor in the Peace Butte decision.

“The Commission accepts that the applicant’s approach to reclamation is sufficient for the purposes of satisfying the Commission that approval of the project is in the public interest,” reads the AUC decision.

It also states that the site, which is not irrigated and is cultivated to grow wheat by a renter, contains “Class 3 or lower” soil grades.

Cypress County council had objected and applied to become an intervenor in the AUC process in the early summer last year – before the provincial government moratorium – arguing that it was in their area of responsibility to protect agricultural land from fragmentation.

We attended a meeting with Cypress Council to discuss potential objections last October who subsequently withdrew their application to the AUC for a hearing.

Two nearby landowners also withdrew their statement to participate over concerns that the site’s slope supports a small onsite irrigation pond on a nearby parcel. They cited discussions with the developer about mitigating any adverse effects in a letter to the AUC on Nov. 4.

The approval follows the recent divestment of another solar park in Alberta to Montana First Nations.

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