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Calgary councillor proposes providing incentives for ATCO solar farm projects

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Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer is seeking city council's approval to provide incentives to ATCO along with other companies considering the development of solar farms or low-carbon projects in Calgary.

ATCO currently has two solar farms nearing completion on brownfield land in an industrial park near 114th Avenue S.E. that it purchased the rights to build on in September 2021.

Collectively, the sites along Barlow and Deerfoot trails aim to generate 64 megawatts of energy for Alberta's grid, which is enough to power 18,000 homes and offset 68,000 tonnes of carbon annually.

In total, the installations account for 175,000 bifacial solar panels that cover the equivalent of 170 Canadian football fields.

Spencer has since put forward a notice of motion to call on council to support the projects through incentives that could come in the form of charging a lower property tax rate for a solar farm site.

"There's an opportunity to optimize this project and to really ensure that future projects like this are incentivized to see Calgary as a viable future," the councillor said.

"This exercise of removing the barriers and optimizing what this can do for the city and what it can provide for Calgarians, this low-carbon future will not be the last. This is a first step and ATCO is the catalyst."

The motion was reviewed for technical merit and approved this week by a vote of 10-3.

Councillors Andre Chabot, Dan McLean and Sean Chu voted against moving it ahead for debate.

Spencer says he's calling on administration to look at a variety of different incentives, but said it's too early to say if the city is ready to give any sort of tax break at this time.

Darcy Fedorchuk, ATCO vice-president of North American power and renewables, says the Barlow Solar Park will be operational by May and the Deerfoot Solar Park is projected to be up and running by the fourth quarter of this year.

He says incentive partnerships with the city will open the door to more projects, including 60 vacant spaces that could be transformed into renewable energy.

"We've been in conversation with the city for about a year now on the potential changes on a property tax that can enable a long-term competitive basis for the city to utilize lands just like this for future renewable developers," said Fedorchuk.

"There are additional projects like this, lands very similar to this, which do exist in the city to continue down that path of decarbonisation, meeting specific climate strategy goals and responding to the consumers in the province with now a low-carbon, low-cost energy source."

The idea of providing incentives for for-profit companies like ATCO is not sitting well with some council members.

Chabot, who represents Ward 10, is skeptical of this proposal, noting there's no need for Calgary taxpayers to provide support for utility companies.

"Worst of all, this is a for-profit company and talking about using Calgary property tax dollars to support a for-profit utility of all things to me just seems over the top," he said.

"There is a way for companies to actually get credits or money from users or purchasers of electricity to offset some of their carbon footprint, if you will, or carbon costs that they have to pay. So there is a subsidy from that respect, as well as if you're producing green energy, you can typically negotiate a higher price for your green energy with companies just because of the fact that it's green energy."

Chabot also questioned whether offering incentives or any sort of financial assistance for utility companies could potentially encourage them to walk away from responsibilities for contaminated sites in the future.

ATCO's two solar farms are located on contaminated land that was previously used by a fertilizer company.

"I'm concerned, putting solar panels on top of a contaminated site is equivalent to sweeping the contamination under the proverbial solar-panel rug," Chabot said

Council has scheduled Spencer's notice of motion for debate at its next meeting on Feb. 14. 

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