A rendering of the proposed solar farm at the E.L. Smith water treatment centre. This view is looking west from a recreational trail across the river. Epcor, supplied

It is  impossible to see how Edmonton’s city council can support Epcor’s proposal to build a 45,000 solar-panel, multi-hectare solar-electricity facility … in the heart of the North Saskatchewan River Valley park system.

Oh! It’s not Epcor’s proposal!

It’s Edmonton city council’s proposal!

With the weirdest of logic, our city council is willing to destroy the natural environment to save the atmospheric environment!

Here’s why.

The City of Edmonton owns Epcor. City vouncil is its ultimate board of directors.

It’s city council, not Epcor, that insists the city-owned water/sewage utility falls in line with the city’s “green” policies, to produce at least 10 per cent of the power it uses from “local” renewable power sources.

Can’t we just buy green power? asked Epcor.

Nope, said city council. You have to make it yourself, locally. Them’s the rules. We don’t care how much it costs. Because, ta dah, we are GREEN!!!

Okay, said Epcor, you’re the boss. The most cost-effective way we can make this power is by placing a mere 45,000 solar panels out beside the E.L. Smith Treatment Plant on land we already own … in the river valley.

Say what?

To force Epcor to build a solar farm in the river valley goes against the letter and spirit of every municipal initiative since 1985: To protect, preserve and enhance the natural environment of the North Saskatchewan River Valley within the boundaries of Edmonton!

To save the environment, city council is willing to destroy the environment!

To build in the river valley for anything other than parkland also goes against the regional mandate of the seven-municipality-owned River Valley Alliance, i.e. to create a continuous river valley park from Devon through Edmonton to just past Fort Saskatchewan.

That mandate is clearly spelled out in the River Valley Alliance’s original Plan of Action: “To preserve and protect the natural environment in the river valley … protecting and enhancing the Capital Region’s river valley and turning it into one of the best and largest integrated metropolitan parks in North America.”

The municipalities have all passed strict land-use bylaws for their river valley land, making it near-impossible to build anything in the river valley other than for park use.  (What’s there now — water/sewage plants, existing neighbourhoods and golf courses — have grandfather rights. They were built before the River Valley Alliance came along.)

Still within the Devon-to-Fort Saskatchewan river valley corridor are thousands of acres of private land, including large tracts owned by  land-development companies.

Should the solar farm be approved, potential river valley land developers will be lining up at the municipal offices of Devon, Parkland County, Leduc County, the City of Edmonton, Strathcona County, Sturgeon County and Fort Saskatchewan, asking for similar zoning changes.

If Epcor is given this exception to the rules, why not us, too? What’s wrong with private acreages, big houses and no-trespassing signs up and down our river valley?

By the way, Edmonton’s current river valley land-use regulations have served us well. What’s now Oleskiw Park was once envisioned by a developer as a high-end neighbourhood. A gravel-pit proposal south of the southwest Henday bridge has been twice rejected.

The glaringly good news is that cheaper, out-of-the-river-valley options exist for EPCOR’s power needs … if city council comes to its senses.

It’s not broken. So why fix it? Just let Epcor continue to buy power off the provincial grid, which by government decree will be made up of 30% renewable power by 2030.

Or Epcor could pay a premium (to be passed on in our water bills) for “green power” currently generated at Alberta’s many wind farms.

If city council continues to insist on this Epcor solar farm, build it (for far more money) outside of the river valley. Plenty of as-yet undeveloped land lies close by, south of the southwest Henday Drive.

The whole thing is wacky.

To allegedly save the planet, our city council is pushing Epcor to build an unwanted, unneeded, currently unzoned industrial (45,000 solar panels is industrial in my books) solar farm squat in the middle of the  river valley.

To do so would be  to undo all the great work done by Edmonton and its six surrounding municipalities to protect, preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the North Saskatchewan River Valley, to eventually make it one of the great parks of North America.