The land use decision to allow Epcor to use their land at the E.L. Smith Water Treatment plant for a temporary solar farm was a difficult one. I, like many of my colleagues, agonized over this decision. It was a 7-6 decision to rezone the land. Ultimately, I choose to support this land use.
This proposed site is on private land held by Epcor that was intended to be used for the expansion of the water treatment plant. A water treatment plant that serves the region. This proposal would allow the water treatment plant to be self-sufficient and not rely on the energy grid, in addition to generating clean energy.
This wasn’t a discussion on the whole river valley (8,400 hectares) but on the small portion of disturbed land that Epcor owns for the future expansion needs of the water treatment plant (22 hectares). We were to consider if this was an appropriate use of this land.
The proposal is for a solar power plant on disturbed, fenced land that is owned by Epcor and had been earmarked for the expansion of the water treatment plant in about 30 years. In the interim, a solar power plant was proposed for this land. It would have less impact than the proposed water treatment plant. It would be removed in 20-25 years and the land returned to its natural state.
Previously council sent this back as there were concerns raised about the Indigenous archaeological significance and if the location should be deemed essential.
Epcor worked with the Enoch Cree Nation to understand the area and have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with them to work together. Enoch Cree Nation now supports the proposed land use. Environmental reports were provided to address the essential aspect of the site.
Biodiversity impacts came up by many of the speakers and this was one subject where we saw differences of opinion by experts. I believe the mitigation strategies proposed and on-going monitoring would address this.
I also considered the zoning change but in the end looked at the intended purpose of the land. We often change our zoning to a new zone as we look at intended purposes for land.
This proposal was considered on its own and this approval does not set a precedent for future development in our River Valley.
I want to say thank you to the many Edmontonians who shared their thoughts on this matter. Many who agreed with solar farms but didn’t want it located here. Others who disagree with what the experts had said. Some felt the mitigation strategies on biodiversity were not enough. Others felt that the agreement with Enoch First Nation not enough consideration for the significant Indigenous history of the land.
At the end of the day I wrestled with this decision as I value the River Valley and recognize that many will believe we have impacted the ribbon of green. I was moved by many of the speakers and their passion and how this might impact future generations. Ultimately, I voted yes as I realize this is a temporary use on land that was earmarked for the future expansion of the water treatment plant.