Op-Ed: EPCOR’s Solar Farm – or is it EPCOR’s Railroad?

Edmonton City Bylaw 7188The North Saskatchewan River Valley Area Redevelopment Plan is a comprehensive plan which envisions the major portion of the River Valley and Ravine System for use as an environmental protection area and for major urban and natural parks.  […] As Edmonton grows and changes and as land becomes more valuable the River Valley may become the threatened by commercial and industrial uses, as well as by civic uses such as public utilities. The municipal level of government has probably exerted the greatest development pressure on the River Valley with public utility proposals and transportation plans. These uses tend to be incompatible with the aims of nature preservation and parkland development.Those excerpts from our North Saskatchewan River Valley Area Re-development Plan, Bylaw 7188, are found in its purpose, which is explicit in its regard for the importance of protecting our river valley and ravine system.  The details surrounding exceptions are strict, and the bar set high. Give it a read.Sierra Club Canada Foundation is determined in its effort to conserve our River Valley, Edmonton’s most unique and valuable asset.   We regard the rule of Law as a foundational social contract between citizens and government; Law and Regulations pursuant are one of our most effective conservational tools. We argue that exceptions to constraints on development under the River Valley Bylaw should be carefully considered, and the bar set high, as:The removal of land in the river valley is always one-way; lands are rarely restored to conservation statusEach new approval of river valley development broadens the precedents for justification of exceptions under the Bylaw.EPCOR has rationalized a Solar Farm adjacent to the E.L. Smith water treatment plant as being a fundamental Public Good: that it assists the City’s goal of reduction of greenhouse gas; that its location in the river valley is the cheapest solution to the “Ratepayer”; and that it provides a number of educational and recreational benefits.Sierra Club Canada agrees that solar power is a laudable goal, but that a solar farm can be sited virtually anywhere (including EPCOR land outside the river valley), or alternatively, purchased under a green power contract – there are many companies providing this service.  Yes, it costs more, and EPCOR has offered various estimates depending on the alternatives, ranging from $10M – $25M, a large cost to the Ratepayer. But what is the cost to the Real Ratepayer, who receives a monthly water bill of around $50? For a ballpark estimate, take the total cost, divide it by 25-30 years of the project life, divide by 12 months in a year, and by 200-250K residential ratepayers:  our arithmetic suggests it’s perhaps 10 to 20 cents a month increase on our $50 bill. That’s a fraction of a Penny to conserve each acre of river valley land proposed to be industrialized.  Compare this additional burden on ratepayers to the recent addition of $6 to our $43 per month Waste Management fee.  As one Councillor put it, “We don’t need a referendum, it’s a no-brainer”. Indeed. That may be the reason why EPCOR has remained totally silent on our estimates, as put to Council Utility Committee over a year back and repeatedly since.  In their reports to Council, and even in a recent op-ed, they continue to refer to the river valley solar farm as being the most economic solution – absolutely true: a penny saved is a penny earned.   We see this persistent argument as at best disingenuous, at worst, a significant misrepresentation of the economic reality.More recently in this year and a half process, EPCOR has provided many value-added arguments for their choice. In their Community Integration report we see:An aboriginal herb garden, and the use of indigenous names.Tours and site interpretation of the solar farm.Training opportunity for NAIT techs.Aesthetically pleasing fence types…How about all the above at a solar farm outside the river valley? OK, one of their listed features would be lost outside the river valley:a “viewing bench” across the river to watch birds and the solar farm – with a built-in solar panel to recharge your phone while resting.The continued recalcitrance of EPCOR to reconsider location in the face of strong argument against compromise to our river valley as well as public opposition is troubling. Perhaps the contract for water services within the City should be competitive – open to all qualified biders, and as with all open tenders, selected based on price and quality. There is certainly broad competition in the private sector, which knows well how to listen to the customers.Email your Councillor today!Charlie Richmond, Urban Issues Co-ordinator, EdmontonSierra Club Canada Foundation————————————————-More information on this issue can be read in Graham Hicks’s article here. Join us in advocating for the preservation of Edmonton’s River Valley. Email your City Councillor today! Find a directory of City Councillors here. Be among our numbers at Edmonton City Hall on Monday, June 17th to support with Sierra Club of Canada and other local groups as we make our case for the environmental preservation of the River Valley and against EPCOR’s solar farm.