After three full days of public hearings, Edmonton city council voted to send a river valley solar farm back to administration for review.
The solar farm project proposed by Epcor required the rezoning of approximately 22 hectares of river valley land in southwest Edmonton, near the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant.
But council instead passed a motion Wednesday evening directing administration to work with Epcor water and the Enoch Cree Nation to continue engagement and return to public hearing activities.
Although the Enoch Cree Nation initially supported the development, it has since withdrawn its support.
The motion passed Wednesday includes that engagement activities include sharing archeological and traditional knowledge to further uncover the site’s history.
“Major projects cannot — increasingly should not — proceed without strong Indigenous consultation,” said Coun. Sarah Hamilton, who proposed the amendment.
She added that returning to engagement did not presuppose an outcome and that she hoped it would set “a new threshold for what we expect of these projects.”
Coun. Aaron Paquette was concerned about the language but said he supported the second amendment added by Coun. Ben Henderson, which asks administration report to council to consider whether the location is essential.
“Our job is a land use job right now,” he said. “Our job isn’t to go and facilitate a conversation between Epcor and Enoch Cree Nation, that’s not the city’s job here.”
The Epcor project had already made it past most regulatory hurdles, securing support from city administration and approval from provincial bodies such as the Alberta Utilities Commission and Alberta Culture and Tourism.
Craig Bonneville, the Epcor project director said after the meeting the utilities company is ready to engage with the Enoch Cree Nation.
“We haven’t heard a lot of detail on their reasoning but we fully intend on reaching out very quickly to understand that and work collaboratively with them,” he said.
Environmentalists opposed the project and were among those who gave testimony during public hearings.
Charles Richmond, urban issues coordinator of the environmental group Sierra Club Canada Foundation, said the decision was “moving in a good direction” but was critical of the continued focus on that location.
“All of this could have been settled if council did remove the locale, then there could’ve been some negotiation and a new proposal and everyone would come out looking good,” he said.
While Epcor owns the land adjacent to the water treatment plant, the land is currently zoned as a metropolitan recreation and environmental protection zone. The company had requested the zoning be changed to a “direct development control provision” to permit the development of a utility service.
Under that provision, the city would retain some control of what the final development would look like, including provisions for landscaping and fencing.
Epcor says the project aligns with city goals to secure more energy from renewable sources.
Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy has an objective of generating 10 per cent of the city’s electricity locally by 2035.