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Solar farm feasability study raises concerns over local grasslands

An application to study some possible locations for a proposed large-scale solar panel farm in the East Kootenay has raised concerns about potential ecological impacts.

The company behind the plan, Enterprise Renewables Ltd., applied for Crown Land usage to test the amount of sunlight at three different sites.

The locations cover a combined total of almost 5,000 hectares in areas east of Kimberley, near Skookumchuk and southwest of Elko.

That said, the final size of the proposed solar farm is undecided until the studies are completed.

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Officials with the Rocky Mountain Naturalists (RMN) said they are not opposed to solar farms in general, but they have issues with the proposed locations.

“Environmentally valuable and irreplaceable rangeland and grassland in the East Kootenay Trench is once again under threat from major development,” said RMN officials.

“A company wants to develop utility-scale solar power plants on ecologically productive grassland and rangeland home to the threatened Long-billed Curlew, Lewis’ Woodpecker, the endangered Williamson’s Sapsucker, and American Badger.”

Wildlife biologist Ian Adams is concerned about the potential of ecologically important grasslands being developed.

“I see no reason for us to be looking at having solar farms on our native grasslands. Those are sites that are important winter ranges for deer and elk, they support many different species at risk,” said Adams. “There has been a lot of work to reduce forest cover and bring those grasslands back to the way it was under Ktunaxa stewardship.”

The Rocky Mountain Naturalists echo Adams’ sentiment.

“In the developer’s application for crown land, they claim this land ‘has previously been disrupted by forest activities or consists of low-lying scrubland’ but that is not true,” said RMN officials. “It’s not scrubland – it’s grassland, rangeland, and winter ungulate range. It wasn’t disrupted by forest activities – it was healed so that many of our grassland-dependent species once again have homes and feeding areas.”

Adams said there are areas within the region that would be significantly more appropriate for a solar farm.

“Some examples would be sites that are already disturbed like old mining sites, and gravel pits. Rooftops in cities – for instance, there are numerous flat rooftops in Cranbrook and other cities that would be ideal for solar installation,” said Adams. “Those, and degraded industrial sites are much more suited to solar institutions than intact native grasslands.”

There are no plans for any construction at this time and the company has yet to decide on which, if any, of the locations are most appropriate.

A public comment period is open until Sunday, Dec 3. You can find a link below.

More: Enterprise Renewables Investigative Phase application

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