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EDITORIAL: It's too soon for a solar-farm survey

'With so much key information still not in front of the public, residents can't possibly offer meaningful responses to a survey, or ask educated questions.'

The City has rolled out a survey as part of its first official round of public engagement on the proposed solar farm project, and will be gathering input until this Sunday.

Residents can take the survey — between eight and 16 questions, depending on the answers given — on a City web page, which also addresses the public's questions in a Q&A format with City staff.

The website says, "the intent of this survey is to gather input that can be considered and used by council in determining if they want to proceed with the initiative."

Council will receive a study this July that is expected to give citizens the full picture of the solar farm and other options regarding alternate uses of the Badger Lands — the current compost site on Villeneuve Road. Should it be a strictly commercial solar farm? Should it be a hybrid project? Should the Badger Lands currently be considered for other uses, such as commercial, residential, or industrial development?

No one knows the answers to these questions because they have yet to be released to the public. So, what is the point of the survey?

There is hardly a person who would argue against the overarching concept of solar power. It’s green, and therefore good, from a conceptual point of view. There is, however, nothing conceptual about this proposal. Will this be a revenue-generator for the City? How much will it cost to remediate the soil contamination on the site? We won’t know the answer to that until the City completes a decontamination study.

How will changing market conditions impact the generation of revenue? Would nixing the solar farm in favour of other development be in the better interest of ratepayers? The projected electricity output of this project has been reported. We are still waiting for the assumptions behind the numbers. How many hours of daylight, snowfall, rain, etc. are these numbers predicated upon?

With so much key information still not in front of the public, residents can't possibly offer meaningful responses to a survey, or ask educated questions. Let's hope this first step is a small one compared to what the City has in store for public engagement on the best use of the Badger Lands.

Regan Lefebvre, St. Albert’s senior manager of utilities, said this week the City's engagement plan is still in the works, and will likely include more opportunities for residents to offer their input and opinions. In other words, the public engagement piece of this major project has not been entirely formulated beyond this survey and time is running short.

The last council ran into stiff opposition to the initial solar farm proposal when the public charged the City had not been forthcoming with all relevant information.

Let’s not repeat that mistake.

The City must get as much information in front of the public, as soon as possible: hold open houses; invite more questions from taxpayers; do more surveys; nurture more open discussion — whatever it takes to fully inform the public before any decision to proceed on a Badger Lands plan.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.