Epcor's proposed solar farm at the E. L. Smith water treatment centre, a rendering from the perspective of someone standing on Anthony Henday Drive.Epcor / Supplied

By GRAHAM HICKS

I like Epcor.

I really do.

I like the notion of a city-owned company successfully competing in the free market, this year delivering a monstrous $171 million shareholder dividend to the city.

Epcor has been so good for the city.

A far-sighted decision to become a global water/sewage treatment company has paid off handsomely. At home Epcor provides excellent water (and power transmission) facilities for the City of Edmonton.

When Epcor opted for the water route, it bundled up its power-generation assets to create Capital Power. With 700 employees mostly in Edmonton, Capital Power has grown into another city-headquartered corporate powerhouse.

So I am even more baffled and dismayed at Epcor’s desire to industrialize and clutter up Edmonton’s pristine river valley with  45,000 solar panels, to create a giant 62-acre “solar farm” that will do nothing but power Epcor’s E.L. Smith water treatment plant, at least when the sun is shining.

Sixty-two acres – that’s bigger than the Valley Zoo, including its parking lot!

All this, because city council wanted Epcor to follow its The Way We Green environmental plan, that 10% of the power used in EPCOR’s Edmonton operations (electricity distribution, water treatment, water/sewage infrastructure) be produced from local, renewable energy sources.

It was at city council’s request that Epcor came back with this river valley solar farm proposal.

The whole exercise is absurd.

Our river valley’s contemporary history is of the triumph of maintaining and developing pristine parkland over repeated attempts, by real estate developers, industry and organization to construct large facilities/buildings in the river valley.

Why make an exception for a solar farm? Multiple bylaws and policies are in place to ensure the river valley stays as pristine as possible.

Some exemptions exist. Century-old river valley neighbourhoods have grandfather rights. Some industrial facilities – water and sewage treatment plants – have to be close to the river.

With hiking friends, I have just completed what we called the “Camino Edmonton”  a five-day hike on existing river valley trails built by the City of Edmonton, regional municipalities and the River Valley Alliance.

The main trail runs from Fort Saskatchewan through Edmonton to Devon and the University of Alberta Botanical Garden. (The trail from the Henday Bridge to Devon is still to be built.)

We could not but marvel at this treasure trove of nature within an urban setting. Why spoil it with 62 acres of glittering, unneeded, un-natural solar panels?

Charlie Richmond of the Sierra Club is known as the guardian of the city’s eco-conscience. He says the Epcor solar farm is a terrific project, IN THE WRONG PLACE.

Here’s why Edmonton’s city council should not allow Epcor’s solar farm proposal.

  1. The land in question was originally zoned to be river valley park for reasons still sound today … to stop further industrialization/development of the North Saskatchewan river valley.
  2. The solar farm is totally unnecessary. The E.L. Smith Plant functions just fine on electricity now coming in on transmission wires. To meet sustainability “quotas”, EPCOR could easily purchase “green energy” from providers like Bullfrog Power, or from Capital Power’s Halkirk wind farm.
  3. Why would city council willfully approve such industry in the river valley, with its visual pollution, in the guise of cleaning up atmospheric pollution? Sorry, but covering 62 acres of parkland with solar panels constitutes an industrial use and would create an industrial look that’s the antithesis of an urban wilderness park.
  4. To approve this project is to tolerate the gradual, incremental intrusion of non-park uses into the river valley. If EPCOR can change the zoning, how about all the property developers holding river valley land upstream from the Henday Bridge, patiently waiting for the day they too can get zoning exemptions?

Plenty of precedent exists for city council to turn down EPCOR’s proposal.

When the Telus World of Science facility was first proposed, a tremendous push was made to have it built in the river valley.  For the same reasons this solar farm proposal should be defeated, that proposal was defeated … and the Telus World of Science is doing just fine where it now sits.

A proposal for a gravel quarry south of the Henday Bridge was defeated … and Edmonton’s gravel needs continue to be easily met from more acceptable sites.

For years,  an Edmonton land development company tried to develop river valley land across the river from Terwillegar Park, proposing a fancy estate/acreage plan. After repeated denials, it finally gave up and sold the land to the city. Today that land is the heart of Oleskiw Park, the latest and most-satisfying addition of parkland to the river valley park system.

There’s enough intrusion into the river valley as it is – golf courses, existing neighbourhoods, the Kinsmen Fieldhouse, the Convention Centre, water treatment facilities, transportation corridors and the spilling of downtown past the Chateau Lacombe into the downtown river valley.

Epcor is welcome to build solar farms anywhere else in the capital region – I’m sure they can be model projects for school kids to visit, they can build company expertise in the solar business if that’s part of the corporate plan.

BUT NOT IN OUR RIVER VALLEY!