Two motions will come before St. Albert city council on Dec. 2 that, if passed, would pump the breaks on the proposed solar-farm project, but not completely halt exploration.
On June 21, council approved the first reading of a bylaw looking to borrow up to $33.75 million over 20 years for the cost of the project (the estimated $26.1-million cost plus a 25-per-cent contingency).
Motions must be read three times before they are passed by council. When the motion came before council for a second and third reading on Aug. 30, council voted to postpone the decision after hearing several presentations from residents.
Those who spoke at the meeting expressed concern about shifting information surrounding the project’s costs and revenue-generation potential.
Instead, council unanimously approved a new motion to use $135,000 from the city’s stabilization reserve to fund the pre-construction work for the project to get a clearer assessment of the costs involved.
Now, while council awaits more answers, Coun. Sheena Hughes has brought forward two motions designed to bring council back to the first stages of the project.
“This is about doing due diligence in the proper order, and making sure those numbers are what they need to be to break even,” Hughes said Thursday. “Since the project was approved in June, it has been clear the numbers that were presented have changed … and yet the project is fully approved.”
The first motion proposes the project’s budget of $26.1 million — approved on June 21 — is reduced to $135,000, the price of the pre-construction work approved at the Aug. 30 meeting.
The second motion would rescind the first reading of the borrowing bylaw, passed on June 21.
Once a first reading of a borrowing bylaw passes, a 15-day petition period begins. During this time, a petition garnering signatures from at least 10 pe cent of the population of St. Albert can force a plebiscite on the issue.
When council postponed the second and third readings of the borrowing bylaw on Aug. 30, Hughes expressed concern that a petition would no longer be required when the bylaw made its way back to council.
At that time, other councillors argued there would be additional opportunities for residents to give input, even if they weren’t explicitly required by procedure. For example, Coun. Jacquie Hansen said a petition could still be a possibility in the future for the next council reviewing the decision.
“I think the next council would allow for that democracy to take place,” Hansen said during the Aug. 30 meeting. “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Speaking Thursday, Hughes emphasized her motions are not designed to completely halt exploration into the solar-farm project, as they include the funding for the detailed pre-construction work.
“This does not stop it from being a discussion point in the future, but it would stop it from being approved as it is right now,” Hughes said. “When those numbers do appear, we’d then bring it back up for a council vote on what the next steps would be, if any.”
Budget deliberations begin Dec. 2, and are scheduled to continue on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9. Dec. 20 is the council meeting set for the budget’s approval.