By GRAHAM HICKS
This past week, for two long afternoons, I was glued to my computer screen watching (at councilontheweb.edmonton.ca) Edmonton’s city council deal with Epcor’s application to build an enormous solar power farm, right beside its E.L. Smith water treatment plant in the river valley just north of the Henday Drive southwest bridge.
The rationale is to provide “sustainable” power for the treatment plant.
As a commentator, my own bias is clear. I deeply believe, as do most Edmontonians, that the river valley is a sacred public trust, a multi-kilometre stretch of uninterrupted, beautiful riverside parkland. No other city in the world has been so blessed.
Other than essential infrastructure (i.e. water and waste-water services, bridges) no further industrial development should ever be allowed in the river valley … including this huge solar farm that could easily be built elsewhere.
I marvelled at the patience of our 12 city councillors and mayor – sitting through hours and hours of mind-numbing analysis, listening to dozens upon dozens of speakers ramble on.
But by Wednesday afternoon, council voted to kick the can down the road, wanting “more information” (as if it didn’t have enough) before putting the Epcor proposal to a vote.
This council’s love affair with “sustainable” energy has become so torrid as to trump a greater value – preservation of natural spaces within the city.
No councillor other than Aaron Paquette, who was championing indigenous culture and tradition, was willing to say NO to this unnecessary protrusion into parkland.
It was glaringly apparent. Every councillor besides Paquette, the mayor and the city’s top executive staff, had already bought into Epcor’s argument: An oh-so-correct solar farm far outweighed preservation of a few acres of moose pasture within the river valley.
Epcor – normally an excellent corporate citizen – had long decided the sexiness of a solar farm would outweigh the annoying (and currently illegal) detail of further industrialization of our sacred river valley.
Epcor was not prepared -after an alleged $4 million worth of planning and research – to even consider moving the solar farm elsewhere and connecting it via transmission lines (as per all electricity) to the E.L. Smith plant. Too expensive, said Epcor. Not so, said its opponents, claiming a new location would add pennies, not dollars, to our monthly water bills.
Speaker after speaker supported the idea of a solar farm. All but two, however, were opposed to the location. City councillors, clearly more interested in solar farms than river valley preservation, remained unmoved.
Not until the hoary question of indigenous tradition and culture on the site, as eloquently summed up by Councillor Paquette, did the pre-ordained approval steamroller slow down.
The essence of the referral motion made by Councillor Sarah Hamilton was “let us go talk to the first-nation groups. Let us reason together, so they will see things our way!”
In a secondary motion, Councillor Ben Henderson wanted clarification on what an “essential service” (i.e. a rationale to build in the river valley) means. To which the administration will surely hem and haw and say it’s up to council to decide what “essential” means.
Why is Epcor insisting the solar farm be built beside the water treatment plant? It doesn’t square with Epcor’s usual desire, as a city-owned company, to be an outstanding corporate citizen.
I suspect self-interest. The expertise Epcor would gain in solar-powered water treatment would be a potent sales tool for its global water-treatment solutions business– especially with “behind-the-grid” power generation and new (grant-funded) battery systems.
But such commercial research can easily be done at a solar farm outside the river valley, with its power shipped via existing transmission lines to the treatment plant.
In the face of public and indigenous people’s opposition, the smartest move Epcor President Stuart Lee could now make is to acknowledge the opposition, voluntarily withdraw the proposal while seeking city assistance in finding a more acceptable site … OUTSIDE THE RIVER VALLEY!
At the end of the day, it was left to Councillor Paquette, once again, to state the obvious that Mayor Don Iveson and the rest of this solar-struck council does not want to hear: “That this council is not considering another option (i.e. to turn down the solar farm in its current location) I find extremely troubling.”