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Solar farm or subpar farm land? City has a dilemma over proposed project

Lily Usik says she can’t see a downside to the plan to blanket part of north Flamborough with 60,000 solar panels as part of a Samsung solar farm.
This photo shows panels at a Grand Renewable Solar site in Haldimand County. Samsung Renewable Energy wants to build a similar site in Flamborough. The city has held off on giving its support until Friday. (Samsung Renewable Energy)

Lily Usik says she can't see a downside to the plan to blanket part of north Flamborough with 60,000 solar panels as part of a Samsung solar farm.

The 79-year-old woman owns a 40-hectare (100-acre) Centre Road farm near Freelton. She leases it to a farmer who has a crop on it right now. But it's rocky "marginal" land, she said, and impractical for crops.

So it's a good trade, she said, to have green technology on it instead. She hopes the panels blanket much of the 100 acres. They can even put them on the roof of her farmhouse if they like, she said.

Lily Usik of Freelton is negotiating with Samsung Renewable Energy to have solar panels on her farm. Usik says the lease will pay "much better" than leasing the land to farmers, and says the land isn't ideal for farming anyway. But some councillors are worried. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"I believe in the energy production. Clean energy," she said. "We know our earth is in a dreadful state, being polluted. Coal and other non-renewable sources are running out.

"At my age, I'm not worried about that, and yet I'm proposing and supporting this project."

- Lily Usik, Flamborough landowner

Usik is one of several Flamborough landowners who stand to benefit from the new Mountsberg Solar Farm.

The company hopes to pay landowners to host the panels, then sell the power — an estimated 15 to 20 megawatts, or enough to power 5,000 homes per year — to the province.

Samsung plans to apply to the province by Sept. 1 as part of a new green energy initiative. But its odds will improve considerably if it has city hall support.

On Tuesday, the planning committee deferred giving that support, opting to decide at a Friday council meeting. Samsung is holding a public meeting on Tuesday night, and councillors want to hear from citizens first.

Samsung brought one such citizen — Usik — to the meeting, offering her as an example of how landowners can benefit.

Neither Usik nor Samsung will give details on how much Usik will make. But she said it's enough to be able to stay in her 160-year-old house.

"The Samsung project will allow me to stay there in a comfortable state," said Usik, who describes the amount as "much better than renting to the farmers."

- Coun. Robert Pasuta

It's not the land, but the farmer

Not everyone is sold on the project yet.

Coun. Robert Pasuta, who represents rural Ward 14 in Flamborough, is a life-long farmer. The land Samsung has in mind isn't designated as prime agricultural land, which would render the project invalid. But it can and does generate crops, he said.

"This is good farmland," he said. "It's not about the land itself. It's about the farmer that works it. It's just wrong to take up farmland."

Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15, where the farm is proposed, said she's torn. She values farmland, she said. But the city supports clean energy, and it can't keep turning down green energy projects.

The committee did support a biomass facility on Tuesday. Cecil Kalyn plans to import saw dust from northern Ontario mills to convert into energy. The plant is at 97 5th Concession Rd. E.

Ancaster solar farm won't happen

A group called Oshawa-Danilexa joint venture initially planned to build the Scotch Block Solar Farm at 1541 Fiddlers Green Rd., but withdrew the proposal.

Even with city support, the biomass and solar farm projects have hurdles to overcome. Both will apply to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) by Sept. 1. The IESO will analyze every application. The Ministry of Environment will do environmental assessments on each winning bid.

The IESO hopes to award enough contracts to generate 300 megawatts of wind energy, 140 megawatts of solar power, 50 megawatts of bioenergy and 75 megawatts of hydro.

For Usik's part, she's pulling for Mountsberg project.

They approached her a year ago, she said, and "I thought this was the best thing that ever happened."


Public meeting:

When: Tuesday, July 7
Time: 5 to 8 p.m.
Where: Carlisle Memorial Hall, 273 Carlisle Rd. 

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