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EDITORIAL: Good on council for postponing solar-farm decision

'What's most important is for the city to make public all of the information on such a pricey project, with enough time for council members and taxpayers to educate themselves on its potential benefits and pitfalls.'
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Council's decision to postpone the solar-farm decision meeting that would have taken place July 13 is a good one.

Administration presented a request for more time at council's June 20 meeting to prepare proposals for the future use of the Badger Lands, including three potential solar-farm models, along with options for commercial, residential, and industrial development on the city-owned land.

Council approved the request, on consent, effectively extending the deadline for administration to return with a proposal to Sept. 30.

Extra time is exactly what is needed to assess whether the city should borrow up to $33.75 million (factoring in a 25-per-cent contingency) over 20 years for the projected $26.2-million project.

It's a lot of money to spend on something council, so far, has not proven will offset tax increases, or even break even.

Council approved first reading of the borrowing bylaw for the solar farm in August 2021, but public pushback citing a lack of meaningful data on potential uses for the land, along with remediation costs (the land was once used as a snow dump), and a transparent business plan, nudged council to postpone final approval of the bylaw pending the collection of more information.

In February, council voted to have administration return with detailed designs of three solar-farm options, along with the results of a remediation study, and other options for the parcel of land off Villeneuve Road in northwest St. Albert residents will know as the compost facility.

The environmental assessment and remediation study is set to be completed in July, according to a report to council that accompanied the time-extension request.

What's most important is for the city to make public all of the information on such a pricey project, with enough time for council members and taxpayers to educate themselves on its potential benefits and pitfalls.

The city must also leave enough time before a decision is made to gather public input.

So far, the city's public engagement on the solar farm hasn't been fully developed, and must include more than online surveys such as the one featured on the city's website on April 11. 

Asking St. Albert residents for their feedback before providing them with all of the necessary information isn't meaningful engagement. Neither is just offering surveys and hosting conversations online.

Engagement on a project of this scale demands in-person opportunities, such as a town hall of sorts, where residents can attend and ask questions and share their opinions on how a solar farm fits on the priority list of long-term projects they'd like the city to spend their tax dollars on.

Anything less is lip service.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.