Pause on wind turbine applications could slow Northern Valley Wind project

The provincial government is pausing Alberta Utility Commission (AUC) approvals of projects like wind turbines and solar panel farms for a six month period, which could heavily impact a project that was slated for application in the Elk Point area. 

On Thursday morning, a press release from the province said that approvals of new renewable electricity projects over one megawatt will be paused until Feb. 29, 2024, as policies and procedures are reviewed.  

In the past several weeks, Elemental Energy has been taking steps towards an application to the AUC for wind turbines in the Northern Valley, south of Elk Point. 

According to the company, they are looking to build up to 17 wind turbines that have capacities of 4.5 megawatt power, with a hub height of 120 metres and a blade length of 82 metres.   

Their goal is to generate renewable energy that will be sold into the Alberta electricity grid. 

However, many residents, including over 50 families, have joined forces as a group called Wind Concerns, going so far as to retain a lawyer to represent these concerns. 

Some of which include adverse health effects, decline in property values, and disturbing an endangered species. 

‘Increasingly raised concerns about the impacts and pace’

The development of wind turbine projects has been growing rapidly, so much so the chair of the AUC says, they are hearing it during their own proceedings. 

“Participants in our public hearings have increasingly raised concerns about the impacts and pace of renewable generation development,” said Carolyn Dahl Rees, chair, Alberta Utilities Commission in the press release. 

The government says this pause is a direct response to these letters and concerns from municipalities and landowners related to responsible land usage and the rapid pace these energy sources are being developed. 

Specifically, policymakers will review the development of power plants on specific types of agricultural, environmental, and Crown land, how reclamation requirements will work, the impacts to the energy grid, and the province’s viewscapes. 

Carolyn Dahl Rees, chair, Alberta Utilities Commission, was appointed in 2020. Image: AUC.

Goals of project

The Northern Valley Wind project says it will have several benefits for the area. 

This includes an estimate of $35 million in tax revenues during the project’s lifetime, revenues for landowners who participate, job creation opportunities, and a community benefit fund that Elemental Energy says will be accessible to local community groups and set up to support local community initiatives. 

These are similar to the turbines installed at the recently constructed Grizzly Bear Creek Wind Project near Mannville, Elemental Energy says. 

This area was chosen because it is a proven wind resource, according to field collection of meteorological information, as well as having electrical infrastructure closeby. Surrounding companies in the region could assist and it would meet the energy demand of residents in the area. 

Elemental Energy says the project would be connected to the ATCO distribution system, meaning much of the electricity would be consumed locally in the Elk Point area. 

“We are in discussions with several potential commercial customers who are interested in a Power Purchase Agreement, which will provide the Northern Valley Wind project with a stable long term electricity offtake customer,” said Liam Wolfe, developmental manager, Elemental Energy, in a written reply to Lakeland Connect. 

A mockup showing proposed areas where the wind turbines would be placed. Image: Elemental Energy.

Discussion is not new

Opposition to wind turbine plants is not new for residents in the St. Paul and Elk Point area. 

Last year, a vocal group voiced concerns about the installation of up to 35 turbines by Northland Power, a company that estimated potential investment of over $100 million north of Elk Point and into the M.D. of Bonnyville. 

In the leadup to an application to AUC, it was announced in early 2023, that the Pihew Waciy project was not viable and would not go forward after a report from Alberta Environment and Protected Areas. 

Fast forward to this summer where engagement began on the Northern Valley Project. Elemental Energy spoke to local rural councils, including County of Two Hills, County of Vermilion River, Elk Point town council, and County of St. Paul council on June 13. 

This was in the leadup to an open house engagement session hosted on July 18, which was combative and left many residents with more questions than answers. 

These worries about wind turbines were part of a delegation to County of St. Paul council at its most recent meeting on July 25. 

Law firm hired

Mark Mallett and his family moved to the Northern Valley region last year.  

In finding out about the proposed wind turbine development he began doing research and joined many in spearheading the charge against its use in the area. 

“When they come into your backyard like this, as the saying goes, you start to look at well, what are the effects?” he told Lakeland Connect. 

“We began to look at what happened in Ontario. And when we began to see the health effects, the impact on property values, the impact on wildlife, animals, and so on, we began to realize, hey, these turbines aren’t benign. These aren’t just these nice spinning pinwheels, but these have real economic and even health impacts on people.

“Now there’s 54 families who’ve come together in a legal fund. And we’ve hired environmental law firm Willms and Shier. And with that law firm, now we’re trying to deal with the energy company, get answers, get data, get studies, and we’re being stonewalled by them.” 

Mallett has gone to great lengths to publish these worries about wind turbines on a website called Wind Concerns as well as a YouTube channel. 

Combined with these concerns, is the matter of the whooping crane. Whooping cranes are assessed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 

Wind Concerns claims they have received information from Environment Canada and Climate Change that the whooping crane uses the Northern Valley as “summer grounds” and wind turbines could impact this endangered species. 

“It migrates up from the south, comes up North stops here, and then these juveniles or sub juvenile species, then they go right back down south. They make their summer grounds in the Northern Valley right directly where this turbine project is.

“It’s a violation of federal law to destroy the habitat of the endangered whooping crane. We think that should end the project right here, right now.” 

Now?

When asked about how Elemental Energy responds to these concerns from local residents, they said they have designed the project to fit the existing environment, and would continue engaging residents. 

Alberta is a well-regulated energy industry, governed by a strong framework of renewable energy policies at the provincial level. These regulations are in place to ensure the well being of Albertans and protect our wildlife,” said Wolfe in a written statement.  

“Elemental has designed the project to fit into the existing environment and minimized or eliminated potential negative impacts. We will continue engaging directly with landowners, people living in close proximity to the project and municipal governments to address ongoing concerns with the project and discuss potential benefits of the project.” 

They were aiming towards submitting an application to the AUC in the fall, but could be waiting at least six months with the provincial moratorium dropping on Thursday. 

With files from Kiyah Smyl. 

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