By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A plan to build a new solar field beside an existing renewable power facility near Burdett has been rejected by regulators who say new panels would be placed too close to a migratory bird breeding ground.
The developer, Aura Power Renewables, planned to build “Burdett Solar” on a quarter-section of land south of the hamlet in the County of Forty Mile.
That would be adjacent to a similarly sized, similarly named, project operated by BluEarth Renewables, but the footprint would be about 300 metres closer to Yellow Lake.
In a ruling published July 21, the Alberta Utilities Commission denied the application, stating it would be too close to the body of water and that one inclusion into a standard 1,000-metre setback from water doesn’t open to door to another.
The ruling follows a similar rejection this spring of the of the 1,600-acre Foothills Solar Facility near High River, in which the AUC ruled the Elemental Energy proposal was too close to migratory bird breeding grounds at Frank Lake.
The AUC cited the Foothills decision in its rejection of the Burdett project, stating that in site selection, potential environmental concerns that are known during the planning stage, such proximity to a water body, or a high risk to wildlife, an “alternate site should be sought.”
According to a site plan for Burdett, submitted by Aura, about 30,0000 panels would be placed on racking systems over 180-acres of privately owned land. The corner of the parcel, however, sits 438 metres from the lake’s boundary – compared to the more than 800-metre distance from the BluEarth facility on the next quarter.
In its ruling, the AUC stated that Aura relied on 2017 studies and a ruling on the first phase that required it to monitor wild birds in the site. It stated the number of migratory birds was low and did not justify mitigation. If during a monitoring phase after construction, bird mortality increased, mitigation would be employed.
A new site-specific report from Alberta Environment and Protected Places placed the risk level to wildlife as “moderate.”
The AUC disagreed, calling bird populations in the spring and fall significant.
That project was ‘grandfathered’ with updated setback regulations brought in, according to Aura, but the commission found that did not pertain to the application, work on which was launched in 2017, but was not formally submitted until 2022.
The company further stated that other sites nearby were not considered appropriate after talks with landowners south of Highway 3.