In a closed meeting

It was a dark and stormy night on February 27th, 2019 – well, I don’t really think it was stormy, but it was a dark night. A dark night for transparency in local government as Summerland Council, in a closed meeting, based on a report received that day, reversed long standing District land use plans and approved the use of municipal land at the toe of Cartwright for a solar project.

Why was it a dark night for municipal transparency? To begin with, the meeting never should have been in a closed session of Council. Section 90 of the Community Charter provides specific reasons for which councils can go into closed session, and this decision did not involve any of them.

I believe that council should never have made such a major decision based on a report we only received that day. This did not allow for proper review by us, much less you, the public. Making matters worse, a lot of information was presented verbally and not documented in the report, which is the third major flaw in this process.

I addressed this with the CAO the next day and a summary of what was said was provided, although I dispute whether it is an accurate summary – which illustrates one reason why councils should not be making major decisions based on verbal reports.

To summarize the errors, the report was not received in advance, it was a closed meeting and much of the information was presented verbally. There is no point in discussing how that happened, the buck stops at the Council table.

Those of you who followed the land swap issue will remember that future growth on ALR land on the North and East of the downtown area was turned down. Preserving ALR land was deemed to be a higher priority than densification through development of lands close to downtown. There is still densification through infill.

This left us with the lands to the West of town as the largest area for future growth. One can readily see that by looking at the Urban Growth Area on the Official Community Plan.

In fact, this has been the plan for many years. At a subsequent meeting of council, former Mayors Peter Waterman and David Gregory came to remind council of this, and the fact that the sewer line down Prairie Valley was oversized when installed in 1999 to accommodate growth to the West. This fell on deaf ears.

To economically get sewer out to Deer Ridge and beyond, it has to be done in a stepwise fashion. The land closest to town must be developed first and the next piece of prime land to be developed in that direction is the District owned land at the toe of Cartwright that is proposed for the solar site.

After this Sunset Court, which already has the pipes in the ground in anticipation of sewer extending West can connect. Beyond that, there is the existing Deer Ridge area where many people are having issues with septic fields with limited capacity in rocky ground, and beyond that again is a large area of undeveloped land.

The previous council (which was largely the same people) turned down a development next to Deer Ridge because it did not have sewer. At the time council gave assurances to the developer that we would work on getting sewer out that way as soon as possible. The video of that meeting is worth watching and can be found here

The report prepared by planning staff at the time is also very illustrative of the communities plans to develop Cartwright and beyond. This report is can be found on the Summerland District’s website here.

The land proposed for the solar site is very valuable for development. How valuable? We don’t know because council defeated my resolution to have an appraisal done. To me, ignoring the value of the land you are going to put a temporary, $7,000.000 solar site on is not how you make a business decision.

That is the other issue. It appears to me that some councillors supported this location because it would be temporary. In the meantime, it blocks much of the planned development in Summerland and then at the end of 20 or 25 years you tear it all down and abandon $2.8 million in design, engineering, construction and installation costs. Add to those wasted installation costs, the cost of taking it all out.

Would it not make much more sense to put it somewhere where it could stay, does not impede our development, and could possibly expand?

Staff, who had been here only a very short time, decided without any consultation, that the Cartwright site “is not an ideal location for future residential or commercial development due to distance from downtown, schools, walkable amenities and similar community infrastructure.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Show me another area of developable land of that size closer to amenities and infrastructure! Furthermore, the statement “is not an ideal location for future residential…….” is a misleading statement. It implies that we should not build there, but what it is really saying is that the site is not perfect.  What site is ideal? How much “ideal” land do we have? The community already decided that ALR land was off the table.

This issue has not been presented for public discussion as a land use decision should be. As councillor Van Alphen has said, “We’ve had five times more discussion about where to put a 1-acre dog park than where to put a five-acre Solar site.”

Councillor Patan has also wisely pointed out that if you want to have solar on this site, we could accelerate the new building codes and require it to be on each of the housing units and provide resiliency for power through a much cheaper diesel backup generator – which would last much longer than batteries in an emergency anyway.”

I would like to finish with three last important points.

1) There is little if any merit to the “resiliency” argument because our critical infrastructure already has longer lasting back up diesel generators and battery storage is limited and would expensive to wire in to microgrid.

2) It is not a GHG emissions reduction project.

3) Everything that I can find says that a community solar project is not economically viable in our area at this time. Four examples are:

A) Kimberley invested $5.5 million in the Sunshine Mine and sold it for $2 million after three years.

B) The National Energy Regulator did a study called The Economics of Solar Power which estimates that solar would cost 146% of available hydro power. https://summerland.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/41480?preview=46781 

C) The BC Utilities Commission turned down a project by Fortis for a solar project in the Ellison area of Kelowna saying it was not in the public interest, no dollar savings and no material green house gas emission reduction

D) Midgard Consulting Inc. recently completed an alternative energy study for Penticton and determined that stand alone solar was not worth pursuing. Note: Midgard has consulted on over 75 solar projects in Canada.

Why would Summerland Council want a solar project, that is temporary, wasting over $2,800,000 of design and construction cost and put on the most valuable piece of developable land the District owns? I don’t know.

You will have to call or write one of the four council members who support it and ask them. But I can’t tell you which ones they are because it was a decision made in a closed meeting, one dark night in February 2019.

Coun. Richard Barkwill, Summerland

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