A quarter (65 hectares) of farmland outside Brooks, Alta., is earmarked for a new solar farm project — one of a growing number dotting the Alberta landscape.
The site for the panels would be adjacent to some residential properties in the northwestern part of the city, about 190 kilometers east of Calgary.
Brooks Mayor John Petrie says city council has just begun discussions with PACE Canada LP, the company behind the project, but they’ve already heard concerns from some residents.
“I think the general comment at this point is that they don’t want the solar farm to be within the city,” he said.
This is a conversation many municipalities and states are having as solar projects become more common around the state.
According to the Alberta Electricity System Operator, Alberta has 29 solar projects operating, an additional 17 under construction, 16 approved and 76 announced.
PACE Canada LP has about 10 Alberta projects, said Claude Mindorff, the company’s director of development, citing the province’s unregulated market and abundant sunshine as motivators for the investment.
“It’s like the late ’70s where you couldn’t go to a small community and rent a hotel room. The same is happening now in Brooks with all the projects from Jenner to Vauxhall.” he said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.
Increasing renewable energy is also on the mind of the state government, which has pledged to reach 30 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Currently, renewable energy accounts for 31 percent of Alberta’s installed grid capacity, but the amount of renewable energy fed into the grid is about 13 percent. This is because sources like solar and wind do not provide continuous energy.
“We’re going to need more renewable energy in this state,” Mindorff said.
PACE Canada LP is interested in this parcel of land in Brooks, Alta., for a new solar farm. (City of Brooks/Council Diary)
Andrea Farmer, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Affordable and Utilities, said Alberta has six times the solar capacity it had in 2021.
“While solar power is important, it is also vital to provide increased generation capacity from other sources to have reliable generation capacity,” he said.
For the Brooks project in particular, Petrie says he will have to listen to his constituents and PACE Canada LP before making a decision.
“As a city council, I think we should listen to all sides of the story here.
Solar Farm at Brooks
PACE Canada LP has begun public outreach in Brooks about a potential solar farm, but it must complete technical studies, environmental reports and an application to the Alberta Public Utilities Commission before it can be built.
One of the main concerns residents have had so far is that the project will be an eyesore, potentially affecting the property values of both Petri and Mindorff.
The company plans to use “tree filtering” to block visibility of the site.
According to Mindorf, the site works well for a solar farm because the property owner is interested, the land is zoned for non-residential use and it is close to existing grid infrastructure.
“This particular substation that we’re servicing is part of Brooks, which is in the industrial south of the city. And so finding the land that’s currently served by the distribution circuit from that substation means there’s no need for new wiring,” he said.
“Once the project is built, we are a very quiet neighbor. We don’t make a lot of noise.”
LISTEN | Claude Mindorff with PACE Canada LP is proposing for a solar farm in Brooks:
Calgary Eyeopener7:46Brooks solar farm
Work to build a 160-acre solar farm within Brooks city limits.
The total amount of energy generated will be more than the city consumes on a summer day, he said.
Mindorff said PACE Canada LP is also working with property owners to try to keep the land in agricultural use.
This could mean creating more space between the panels to allow seeding to continue, or placing solar panels on poles so that sheep can continue to graze under them.
It comes for the community
The economic benefits of the project also need to be considered, Petrie says.
There is additional construction work and city activity during project construction, but the potential for more tax revenue in the long run.
The solar farm, built by Elemental Energy, is located just outside of Brooks in Newell County along the Trans-Canada Highway.
That’s what Newell County Councilman Neil Johnson sees when he looks out the window. The solar farm, built and operated by Elemental Energy, was installed on a portion of its property located on the outskirts of Brooks. (Submitted by Neil Johnson)
It sits partly on Neil Johnson’s land. Farmer and councilman Newell says the county gets about 30 times more tax revenue from the solar farm than it would have if it were used purely for agricultural purposes.
“I’m a small farmer, mostly retired … and they paid a pretty good annual rent,” he said.
“There’s a row of trees there, you can barely see them … after a year or two, when you’re here, you just get used to it.”
In Volcano County, taxes from renewable energy projects account for 45 percent of the county’s revenue; Reeve Jason Schneider said last month that 25 percent is solar and 20 percent is wind.
If the solar farm can become a tax break for the community, that’s a positive, Petrie said.
“Do we leave that land vacant for the next 10 years and not collect any tax revenue from it? So those are the things we have to measure.”
PACE Canada LP plans to hold another public information and consultation session for residents on March 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Brooks library.
The company hopes to break ground by the end of the year.