The location of the solar project near the lake raises the alarm
A proposed solar project east of High River, Alberta, is to be built near a lake listed as one of Canada’s most important bird areas, raising concerns it could harm species such as waterfowl.
Sunlight inadvertently reflected from about 445,000 photovoltaic modules or panels at the Foothills Solar Project could potentially be mistaken by birds as being reflected from water, said Ian Urquhart, executive director of the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA ).
He was concerned that Elemental Energy’s roughly 1,500-acre development near Frank Lake could cause birds to die or be injured by colliding with the panels. The lake is one of the sites in Canada listed under the International Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas Program.
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“It’s been identified as the most important wetland in southwestern Alberta for waterfowl breeding. And (they) are basically proposing to put there what might appear to birds to be an extension of this lake immediately. adjacent.”
However, Elemental Energy is “working with subject matter experts, including a professional biologist, to design the project (Foothills Solar) in a way that minimizes impacts on the environment, including waterfowl and migratory birds,” project development manager Dan Eaton said in an email Jan. 20.
“We are working with relevant regulators and consulting with stakeholders before filing our application with the Alberta Utilities Commission.”
A wildlife guideline released in 2017 by Alberta Environment and Parks said there are many unknowns surrounding the direct impact of solar projects on species ranging from plants and mammals to birds.
The “lake effect” is described as a hypothesis which suggests that birds are attracted to arrays of solar collectors or reflectors because polarized light is reflected at a wavelength similar to that of water, which which could make these projects look like a lake.
Although it has been documented in other places that some waterfowl have been killed while attempting to land on solar panels, the guideline says further research needs to be done to determine if the hypothesis is applicable to the Alberta.
However, he said solar development in the province should not occur in areas such as native grasslands or parks, or within 1,000 meters of a named lake or water body. “Solar power projects that are properly sited and (designed) avoid or minimize these effects.”
Despite those concerns, the Foothills Solar Project is to be built on zoned farmland about half a mile from Frank Lake at its closest point, said Foothills County Planning Director Heather Hemingway.
The lake is home to waterfowl and shorebirds during annual spring and fall migrations. For example, between one and two percent of the western population of Tundra Swans can be seen on the lake during fall migration.
Ducks Unlimited Canada, Alberta Operations “supports the pursuit of green energy projects in Alberta, provided they are delivered in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements,” he said in a Jan. 20 email.
“We continue to follow the evolving science around solar energy installations, to better understand the potential impacts on waterfowl, wetlands and other important waterfowl habitats. As part of the proposed Foothills project appears to fall within the Frank Lake Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, CIC urges the applicant and regulator to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to mitigate any adverse impacts. .”
The project is to generate 150 megawatts of renewable electricity through a preliminary design involving approximately 445,000 photovoltaic modules, said a community newsletter in November by Elemental Energy. These should be bifacial, or double-sided, increasing their power output while using less land, he said.
They should be set up on a single axis tracking system, allowing them to rotate to follow the sun throughout the day. Preliminary plans also include the construction of internal access roads, 54 inverter/transformer stations, an electricity collection system and a substation project to connect it to the power system of the Alberta.
“Elemental is exploring options to connect the project to the network,” the bulletin said. “The interconnection is subject to a separate public consultation and regulatory clearance process.”
The company has completed what it calls extensive environmental studies that included wildlife and vegetation, as well as wetland delineation and habitat mapping. He said an assessment also concluded that sign-tracking technology will prevent potential glare from being reported on things like nearby residences or roads.
“We engage in projects that generate environmental benefits, positive social impacts for the communities in which we work, and long-term economic benefits.”
These include creating up to 200 jobs during construction, followed by employing a crew of workers to sustain the facility for up to 35 years, the bulletin said. In addition to generating economic benefits and what it calls significant property tax revenue for Foothills County, the company will also create a community benefits fund “to support local initiatives, education and outreach programs. ‘other special projects’.
However, while the AWA supports renewable energy, Urquhart said “that doesn’t mean we’re ready to give renewable energy developers a blank check and green light all their projects. And we We need to look closely at these projects and see if other conservation values like wildlife mortality (and) loss of critical habitat are going to be seriously compromised…”