By Nikki Jamieson
With the recent surge of solar companies vying to get into southern Alberta, the Municipal District of Taber council has two words of advice for their ratepayers: buyer beware.
Coming off of reading Jack Dunsmore’s director of planning and infrastructure report during their regular March 28 meeting, M.D. of Taber council expressed some concern over the influx of solar in the area on private property.
“They continue to receive inquiries from solar proponents, however there are only two development applications, both of which we had hearings for, and development permits were approved,” said Derrick Krizsan, CAO for the M.D., reading from the report, as Dunsmore was not in attendance.
The M.D. had issued development permits to BowMont Capital Advisory Ltd. and Canadian Solar Solutions Inc., who have partnered together for the project on behalf of CB Alberta Solar Development ULC (CBA), for their Hays and Vauxhall solar projects. Currently, the projects are waiting on approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) for approval to construct and operate the projects, and are vying for government energy contracts.
“The AUC process — like I mentioned at the development hearing the other day — is kind of an eye-opener, learning curve for everyone. We learn a little bit everyday, every time we go through these things,” said Bob Wallace, M.D. councillor. “The AUC, the process there if you want to have a hearing, you have to make notice that you want ‘standing’ at the hearing. It’s a legal word, you don’t say you want standing, then you’re probably not going to be able, you’re not going to be heard at the AUC.”
In legal terms, standing refers to one’s ability to demonstrate that they have adequate connection to and potential harm from the law or action to support their participation in the matter. For instance, in the case of solar farms, surrounding landowners to a potential solar project could petition that they want standing at the AUC hearing on the project.
Wallace also referred to a report he had heard from the Farmer’s Advocate Office, after attending a recent meeting with Reeve Brian Brewin, saying that anyone who is signing up or is interested in signing up a solar project on their land based on royalties, they would receive no money from the solar companies during the construction, reclamation or whenever they aren’t selling energy, as if it “is not producing power, you’re not going to receive any funds”.
“Many people are going to sign these contracts with the expectation of getting big dollars, which probably will not come to fruition. However, they will have the headache of their land tied up forever,” said Wallace. “If they’re not producing energy, if they’re not selling energy, the payment is zero.”
“If they’re putting it on your land, you’re responsible for it,” said Brewin. “Make sure you know what you’re getting into, make sure you have it spelled out in your contract, make sure you understand the reclamation right off the bat.”
Additionally, if the solar company defaults on paying taxes, it falls on the landowner to pay them. There is also nothing like the orphan well association for solar or power.
“If they haven’t sold the land, if they’re renting it to the, it’s just like anything; it’s you’re land, you’re responsible.”
“The important message is people are thinking of this solar, wind, alternative energy like an oil well,” said Wallace. “This is a civil contract between the landowner and the energy company, therefor there is no orphan well fund, there’s no force-of-entry rules. If you do not wan the solar or wind on your land, you simply say no. But in their next breath they said just beware that just because you say no, doesn’t mean your neighbours are going to. So you may not get it on your land, but your neighbours’ will put it on and you’ll have none of the benefits.”
“It’s kind of a situation where they pit neighbour against neighbour. The ones that do sign up, they have also been forced to sign a confidentiality clause, which means they can’t tell their neighbours what they’re signed up for or what’s coming. So it’s neighbour against neighbour, and in the end, I’m not sure who is going to be the true winner here.”
Brewin stressed that interested landowners should make sure that everything is spelt out in any potential contracts between them and solar or wind companies, as it is a private contract between two parties, adding “this is buyer beware.”
Council accepted the report for information.