A company proposing a wind power project in the Smoky River Region held an open house on Nov. 1 to address concerns and questions from residents.
ABO Wind Canada is proposing the creation of a 160-megawatt renewable wind project, inclusive of between 25 and 27 wind turbines. The project would help produce enough clean energy power to power roughly 65,000 homes, mitigating 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions throughout the project’s lifecycle.
ABO social impact and engagement lead Dave Berrade says the open house was held in Jean Cote to help address some of the issues that have been raised by concerned Smoky River residents.
“After consulting with local entities, we were referred to the community hall due to its capacity to hold a large amount of people and its relative proximity to the project,” explains Berrade.
“ABO Wind wants to ensure continued opportunities to provide updated information to the public and receive feedback from stakeholders,” he adds.
Berrade says the creation of wind energy aligns with Alberta’s objectives of achieving low carbon energy goals. Popularity of renewable energy projects is growing globally, and many areas are looking to diversify from fossil fuels to meet emission reduction targets and to confront the consequences of climate change.
“Wind energy can offset emissions that would otherwise be emitted through the burning of fossil fuels,” says Berrade.
“Smoky River will generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gasses or air pollutants or any use of fresh water.”
The open house saw roughly 80 residents attend, posing many questions regarding the health, societal, and environmental impacts they are concerned may be associated with the erection of wind turbines in the region.
One of the most broadly voiced concerns regarding wind turbines is that there is no protection in place for landowners when it is time to reclaim the area housing the structures.
“In Alberta, there are established conservation and reclamation standards that specifically apply to the developers of projects,” says Berrade, addressing the concern.
“We are closely monitoring the directives of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). It is expected that the AUC will release comprehensive guidelines pertaining to decommissioning funds, outlining the necessary measures and financial provisions for the proper reclamation of sites. ABO is fully committed to adhering to these guidelines. If for some reason, guidelines are not put in place, ABO commits to establishing a decommissioning fund for the project.”
The UCP government recently put a moratorium on large alternate energy projects that is set to be lifted early in the new year. Their goal was to have the AUC evaluate current standards that are in place and to re-evaluate what should be done to ensure landowners are protected.
Berrade says the company acknowledges there is energy expended during the manufacturing and construction phases of wind projects, but the structures will help significantly reduce the carbon footprint by the end of their lifecycle.
“Comprehensive studies have demonstrated that the carbon footprint generated during these initial stages is effectively mitigated within a span of two years from the commencement of the facility’s active operation,” he says.
“And when all lifecycle stages are taken into account, wind energy produces a fraction of the greenhouse gases as the burning of fossil fuels,” he adds. “As we move towards energy grids with progressively larger proportions of renewable energy, the overall carbon footprint associated with renewable sources, including wind energy, will continue to diminish significantly.”
One concern addressed by an environment health expert during the open house was that of how the wind turbines could affect neuro-divergent people.
Berrade says the Smoky River Project will have sound-generating infrastructure but has to meet noise guidelines as outlined in the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) Rule 012. Rule 012 ensures that noise emissions from power plants do not exceed the permissible sound level of 40 dBA in the evening for rural residences including background and third-party noises. Residences within 500 m from a highway have a permissible sound level of 45 dBA due to the higher background noise. He says the Smoky River Wind project will not exceed these levels.
“ABO understands the concern for neurodivergent people living around wind turbines,” Berrade adds.
“Our health expert, Dr. Ollson, indicated that there is nothing in the scientific literature, or Alberta lived experience, to suggest that neurodivergent children or adults are impacted by the operation of wind turbines. ABO has designed our project to meet the strict sound, shadow flicker and setback requirements to homes required in Alberta that ensure the protection of public health.”
The project is being slotted for an area that is very close to migration paths for migratory fowl, their safety is one of many concerns addressed at the function.
At this time, third-party environmental consultant, McCallum Environmental, has not seen evidence of specific migratory corridor being affected by the project. Berrade says they have indicated the migratory pathway for birds is very wide, almost across half the province and not just a few hundred meters.
“We would expect some mortality of birds from the project, however, post-construction mortality searches will be conducted for at least three years after the project is built, which will help determine if there are turbines in certain areas that are impacting more birds than other turbines,” he says.
Berrade says the proposed project will significantly enhance the region in multiple ways beyond providing low carbon energy.
“Notably, the Smoky River Wind Project offer a range of advantages, such as establishing a community benefit fund, augmenting tax revenue for the municipality, and generating employment opportunities within the local economy,” Berrade says.
“One of the most substantial and enduring benefits of this initiative is the substantial financial contribution it will make to the region. Over the lifespan of the project, the region is poised to receive tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.”
In addition to financial infusion, the project may help address the power outages experienced frequently in the Smoky River region.
“Traditionally, a portion of the power consumed in this region has been sourced from large power plants situated near Edmonton,” he says. “By generating energy locally through these wind turbines, the region benefits from a reduction in power losses that often occur during the transmission of electricity over long distances.”
Berrade says it is important to recognize that Alberta operates within a supply and demand-based market framework.
“By introducing additional supply to the market through initiatives like the proposed wind energy project, there is a tangible opportunity to mitigate electricity costs for consumers,” he says.
“There are a number of positive benefits for the community. In addition, although we do not dictate how the M.D. spends their money, in similar scenarios in other jurisdictions the tax revenue received by the local government can be used for infrastructure projects as well as a source to reduce or prevent increases of personal property taxes.”
Berrade notes that the operational footprint of each turbine, along with its associated access road, will typically occupy less than two acres.
“To put this into perspective, this footprint is smaller than that of a typical gas well pad and would take up less than 1.5 per cent of a quarter section,” he says.
“The planning and execution of wind energy projects, including the Smoky River Wind Project, involve extensive consultation with landowners. The access roads within the project are strategically designed in collaboration with the landowners, taking into account their expertise and insights. This collaborative approach ensures that the layout and construction of the roads are tailored to minimize disruption to agricultural operations and preserve the productivity of the land.”