Why some Antigonish residents take issue with the future location of new solar farm

·3 min read
Antigonish is one of three Nova Scotia towns to receive millions of dollars from the provincial and federal governments to construct solar gardens.  (Submitted by Nova Scotia Power - image credit)
Antigonish is one of three Nova Scotia towns to receive millions of dollars from the provincial and federal governments to construct solar gardens. (Submitted by Nova Scotia Power - image credit)

Some residents in Antigonish, N.S., want the town to reconsider its plan to build part of a new solar garden in a forested area they say is prime habitat for wildlife.

Ed Gillis, who lives on Brierly Brook Road not far from the proposed site, said he supports solar energy and was initially excited about the project that would allow members of the community to buy panels or shares in the local utility.

But he became concerned when he learned the town had changed its original plan to only build on a former dump site.

"What was planned and sold to the public was basically re-purposing the dump itself," he told CBC Radio's Information Morning. "That plan has changed to now extending it to the west, which will involve a forested area that we consider to be a wildlife corridor."

Gillis said the forest is known to be biologically diverse and home to deer, bear, bobcat and fox.

"I think this whole process went off the rails because there was no requirement for an environmental assessment on this property. There's no real accountability," he said.

Unclear how many trees will be cut

Mayor Laurie Boucher said the 2.1-megawatt project will encompass about eight hectares of town land. The project isn't getting any larger, she said, but is moving further west because not all the ground on the former dump site is stable enough to support construction.

Boucher said at this point she's "not 100 per cent sure" how many trees will be cut down, but that the town has been working with the Department of Natural Resources to limit the impact on wildlife.

Pat Callaghan/CBC
Pat Callaghan/CBC

"We will only cut down what we need," Boucher said. "We're not planning to clear cut anything. We are taking more than we thought we would have to originally but the final design is not finished yet."

Antigonish is one of three Nova Scotia towns to receive millions of dollars from the provincial and federal governments to construct solar gardens. Antigonish, Berwick and Mahone Bay hope to be Canada's first net-zero emission communities.

Gillis started a petition calling for the town to maintain the wildlife corridor. The petition also outlines his concerns that runoff from the site could leach into nearby water sources since the dump was never properly covered over.

Boucher said the town will "make sure that everything is capped off so it takes care of all the sediment and erosion control."

Patrick Callaghan/CBC
Patrick Callaghan/CBC

The site was used as a landfill for household and municipal waste, such as asphalt, for about 10 years in the 1960s and '70s.

Matea Drljepan, another resident in Antigonish, said at first she liked the idea of giving the old dump a new greener life.

But she's not convinced the town's plan is all that green if trees need to be cut down to make it happen. She also wants residents to have more say in where the solar garden is set up.

"We think that the public has the right to know that this is happening before the project proceeds," Drijepan said.

The town has until March 2024 to build the solar garden, but Boucher said she'd like to get it done before that.

"Due to the volatile energy and the prices of energy right now, we're trying to get this done as soon as we can," she said.

Boucher said residents will have an opportunity to give their input as the project proceeds.

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