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Posted: January 6, 2017

Solar test sites referral left hanging as board split

By Ian Cobb


Despite opposition from three affected electoral area Advisory Planning Committees and directors, a Crown land referral went the distance in debate this morning at the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors’ table.

Map showing some of the sites; RDEK planning document. Click to enlarge
Map showing some of the sites; RDEK planning document. Click to enlarge

The board discussed a Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) referral regarding SB Solar Holding Corp.’s (Sea Breeze Power) Crown land application for a Licence of Occupation for ‘Investigative and Monitoring Purposes to Assess the Potential for Development of Solar Energy Projects in the vicinities of Elko, Galloway, Rosen Lake, Norbury Lake and McGinity Lake,’ located in RDEK Electoral Areas B, C and E.

“This application is for investigative activities related to the development of a small-to-medium scale solar energy generation facility. The purpose of the Galloway Solar Energy Project (the “project”) will be to supply electricity into the B.C. grid. The purpose of the investigative phase will be to establish project feasibility and to investigate factors that require consideration in the design and permitting of the project,” the applicant’s project overview explains.

“The project is in the assessment and feasibility stage. Sea Breeze has conducted a preliminary review of available desktop information and has identified this site as a candidate. Consultation with affected stakeholders and First Nations will begin imminently for this project.”

RDEK planning staff recommended the board support the application, noting “The investigative phase will have minimal impact. Diversification of energy sources is supported. A development permit application is required prior to any land disturbance or construction or placement of any structures within the subject Norbury Lake area. ALR non-farm use and rezoning applications (if applicable) will be required prior to development of a utility scale solar facility if investigations indicate feasibility.”

The staff report also pointed out the Advisory Planning Committees (APCs) of all three electoral areas do not support the application.

“APC Area B: Not supported due to potential conflict of the non-farm use with the Crown range tenure holders. The members do not believe the additional electricity is required in our area because of the clean energy from hydro sites, which is already available.

“APC Area C: The members are strongly opposed to the Norbury Lake area site and do not believe any of the sites will be required after the Site C dam and new hydro station on the Peace River are completed by 2024.

“APC Area E: Not supported,” the report said.

Area C Director and Board Chair Rob Gay
Area C Director and Board Chair Rob Gay

Electoral Area C Director and RDEK Board Chair Rob Gay said he is opposed to the application, with one reason being the proposed Norbury Lake test site is used heavily by ranchers and is critical wildlife range.

“Why create some expectations when we’re led to believe power isn’t even needed right now in the province?” Gay asked the board.

Electoral Area B Director Stan Doehle told the board ranchers “are adamantly opposed to it” and noted some areas serve as winter range for elk.

“I don’t know how we could support that,” he said.

The board then voted eight to six against supporting the application, with Gay, Doehle, Electoral Area E Director Jane Walter, Electoral A Director Mike Sosnowski, City of Cranbrook (alternate) Director Wes Graham, District of Elkford Mayor and Director Dean McKerracher, Electoral Area G Director Gerry Wilkie and District of Invermere Mayor and Director Gerry Taft voting opposed.

The board then voted again to send a letter not supporting the application but that ended in seven-seven tie, which is defeats the motion, leaving the matter unsettled – or at least no comment to be forwarded to the provincial government.

Mayor Don McCormick
Mayor Don McCormick

“It puzzles me a little bit; this is data collection,” said City of Kimberley Mayor and Director Don McCormick, noting the solar energy test sites may show the areas “not good enough” to bother investing in.

“To shut down data collection on things like this makes no sense to me,” he added.

Walters said the rural area directors would hear about it if they supported such an application because of the number of range and recreation users.

Sosnowski said he is opposed to the application out of “principle” and because “my constituents, Stan’s constituents and Director Walter’s constituents (and Director Gay’s) are telling us they do not want it. I’ve got to listen.”

Village of Canal Flats Mayor and Director Ute Juras said she agreed with McCormick, noting a test site is only 10 square metres of land. There is still time for the board to educate itself and constituents on the application.” Let’s take it one step at a time.”

Kimberley's SunMine
Kimberley’s SunMine

Doehle argued the proponent should seek test sites on old mine property, similar to Kimberley’s SunMine, but they have selected “prime land.”

Cranbrook Mayor and Director Lee Pratt, noting the application is “purely investigative” said, “to close the door is like telling the rest of the world this part of the world isn’t interested in something different.”

Fellow city Director Graham said “the rub” is the fact the rural directors will field the complaints.

“The province isn’t necessarily easy to find” when it comes to filing a complaint about something, he said.

Invermere’s Taft said the board was debating “a referral and not a decision” and pointed out the provincial government often ignores board referrals.

“For the life of me – a place like McGinty Lake – an endangered ecosystem” should not be part of such an application Gay concluded. That specific test site is located just east of McGinty Lake.

In the end, the board passed a motion made by Director Walter to have MFLNRO representatives address them on the referral.

Mayor McCormick also told the board he would work on bringing expertise from the SunMine application process in to speak to the board.

Lead image: The photo does not show the actual site of the proposed Norbury Lake area test site, but it is close. The image provides a look at the terrain considered in the test area. e-KNOW file photo

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