Kneehill County council re-zoned agriculture land to light industrial to accommodate an applicant who intends to build a cryptocurrency mine. The public hearing and votes were held at the Feb. 13 regular meeting of council.

During a public hearing Planning & Development Officer Deanna Keiver presented the application from Athill Tech Solutions, which was represented by its agent SABR Energy Consulting to re-zone property on a piece of land owned by a third party. 

“Britestone Hutterian Brethren Church are the current landowners of SE 24-28-24 W4 and NE 13-28-24 W4,” stated the staff memo. “They have granted SABR Energy Consulting Inc. the authority (agent) to apply on behalf of Athill Tech Solution Ltd. to construct and operate a 9.97-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant for bitcoin mining/data center operation.

“Cryptocurrency mining requires the use of sophisticated computers with significant power needs. While some digital currency processing facilities are directly connected to the electrical grid to fulfill their energy needs, others are not connected and instead use other means. 

This site will be natural gas fed from the adjacent Ember Resources site to operate the 9.97megawatt facility. 

“The facility lease site will be 2.23 acres directly west of the Ember Resources lease in the southeast corner of the SE 24-28-24 W4. Access to the site will be from the northeast corner of NE 13-28-24 W4 which is south and not part of Ember’s lease site. 

“Major components of the power plant include six 1.475 megawatt generators, one 1.12-megawatt generator, seven power distribution racks, 20 data centre containers and natural gas piping.” 

It was noted the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) already gave Athill a checklist of requirements to meet, which apparently the company satisfied.

Keiver noted during her presentation the land in question was zoned agriculture and to accommodate a cryptocurrency facility it must be re-zoned to light industrial (LI) under which such a facility is a discretionary use. 

She further noted the re-zoning already received first reading with the proposal being publicly advertised. 

She stated few written submissions were received, two from AHS and Alberta Transportation, and none were in opposition to the re-zoning.

Coun. Wade Christie, looking at maps of the proposal, asked if the development would be better situated further south. Keiver responded that’s something for the applicant and the landowner to decide.

Coun. Debbie Penner asked if in the future some of this land is sold, how would access be handled? Keiver responded an access agreement is already on file.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham asked if Kneehill County requires a clean-up plan if the mine closes down in the future. Keiver responded the public hearing was solely for the re-zoning with clean-up plans a topic of discussion during the development permit application.

This issue came up several times in fact, with Reeve Ken King reminding councillors the topic at hand was only re-zoning of the property.

Representatives of both Athill and SABR were online at the public hearing. Coun. Carrie Fobes asked what the emissions would be from the seven generators described.

SABR spokesperson Samantha Brown stated she didn’t have that information handy but could forward an emissions report to councillors.

The reeve asked if any members of the public wished to speak, to which Brian Loschuk, who described himself as a neighbour to the site in question, arose. Loschuk stated he had several questions and concerns, including he couldn’t find much information about Athill and would like to know more about them, the cryptocurrency industry appears to be largely unregulated, no reports such as noise and emissions had been given to neighbours and curiosity about how councillors felt about risk assessment.

At this point the reeve once again noted the public hearing was solely for the re-zoning and questions about the development itself would be handled in the future during the development permit process. 

Brown responded as well by saying SABR sent out information packages to neighbours within a 1.5 km radius in September 2023 and received no feedback but would be happy to meet with Loschuk to discuss concerns.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated she wanted to clarify if the land is re-zoned whether the development permit is automatically approved. Keiver answered no, the development permit application for the mine itself is a separate process.

Coun. Machell-Cunningham pointed out that once the land is zoned LI industrial developments could appear without going to the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) first. 

Keiver responded that even if a use is “permitted,” meaning it’s not mandatory that it go before the MPC, staff may still bring it to the MPC if they don’t feel comfortable approving it.

After the public hearing was closed, councillors debated the application. Councillors voted 5 to 2 in favour of passing second reading, Fobes and Machell-Cunningham opposed.

Coun. Fobes stated she would have liked to see the noise and emissions report, with Coun. Penner responding those reports would be part of the development permit process.

Councillors approved third reading of the re-zoning bylaw by a 5 to 2 vote, Fobes and Machell-Cunningham opposed.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 21, 2024 at 09:36

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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