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Saamis Solar field AUC hearing postponed

Posted on July 20, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers

A hearing set to begin earlier this month to determine if the largest urban solar array in Canada should be built in northern Medicine Hat has been postponed.

The Alberta Utilities Commission was set to open and hear arguments July 11 on building the Saamis Solar field, a $400-million project with a maximum capacity larger than all of the City of Medicine Hat’s generating stations combined.

The private-sector project, advanced by Irish-based DP Energy, was first publicly proposed in 2019 for former industrial land north of Crescent Heights, but has since expanded onto grasslands to the east, which raised alarms of nearby residents, land developers and environmentalists who oppose the project.

At least three residents of the Crescent Heights or Terrace neighbourhoods, owners of at least two neighbouring quarter-sections with development aspirations and an oil and gas company with interest in the expanded footprint, have registered to give evidence at the hearing.

Sources tell Southern Alberta Newspapers there is no formal explanation for postponement, but the matter could be taken up in September.

Southern Alberta Newspapers was first to report in early 2019 that DP Energy was promoting a plan to place a 200-megawatt capacity array on the former tailings pond of the West Co. fertilizer plant without disturbing the underlying phosphogypsum deposit left over from industrial processing.

The company also developed two similar, though smaller, proposals to build on former tailings ponds inside the City of Calgary. It sold both to Atco in late 2021, and after AUC approval one of the two is now in operation. It produces up to 27 megawatts of power on land leased from Viterra, which also owns the 1,500 acres in Medicine Hat where Saamis would be located.

In the meantime, the Saamis proposal also grew from cement-base mounted arrays with a capacity of 200 megawatts on only dry pond to pile-mounted arrays on grassland to the east.

The project application also includes a new substation that would flow power produced on to the Alberta grid, not to the City of Medicine Hat’s system.

City power officials have said they will observe the regulatory process for the project, but have not taken a formal position. Elected and economic development officials have pointed to potential positive economic gains from the project.

Landowners have questioned city involvement during preliminary portions of the hearing, including the issuance of local development permits and the city’s development goals in the north end and near Ranchlands. Several hold parcels with the long-term goal of developing residential subdivisions.

The AUC has the power to reject projects or approve them whole, or in part with conditions.

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