April 23rd, 2024

Industry demanding stability after renewables pause ends

By COLLIN GALLANT on February 28, 2024.

A wind turbine is seen in this undated file photo. The renewable energy industry is hoping the provincial government will accelerate approvals to make up for lost investment once its six-month moratorium ends Thursday.--NEWS FILE PHOTO


A review of how proposals to build wind and solar projects in Alberta are weighed and approved concludes Thursday, bringing calls from renewables energy companies to bring in reasonable rules to stabilize the sector.

An Aug. 3, Premier Danielle Smith announced that all new final approvals would halt as the Alberta Utilities Commission launched a study on the approval process, stressing concerns about reclamation, land-use and stakeholder input.

At least four major projects near Medicine Hat in late-stage development were captured by the order, which also asks for studies on transmission costs and the effects of bringing so much low-cost energy on the market.

Last week, Smith announced the pause on approvals would lift as planned, but with little indication on how complex issues would be handled in the future.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Justin Wright backed the moratorium, saying issues are very complex, but the review will be of benefit.

“I’m looking forward to see what’s come of it, and what will continue to come from it,” Wright told the News on Tuesday. “There’s ongoing solicitation and feedback that Albertans have provided, and we’ll see some things from the pause to see the regulations match up.

“It’ll bring some needed consistency to the regulation, but also ensure there is protection measures and clearcut expectation of what the industry looks like.”

That was also argued by officials in the private sector this week, but with stress on the need to avoid punitive measures to rebuild investor confidence.

An op-ed piece written by senior officials with the Canada Renewables Energy Association argues its members have taken part in the review in good faith, and the province now needs transparent policy, a reasonable reclamation policy and must avoid retroactively imposing regulations and blanket bans.

“It is possible to address concerns about the regulatory landscape without risking billions of dollars in investment, along with hundreds of millions in property tax and landowner lease payments that may not otherwise be available to Albertans,” reads the piece, signed by CanREA president Victoria Vittoria Bellissimo and vice-president Evan May.

“The signal sent to investors by the pause requires that government now accelerate efforts to provide stability and clarity.”

Blanket bans, they said, would harm the industry as well as rural landowners looking to earn new lease revenue and counties that could diversify tax bases with new industrial projects.

Both Cypress County and the County of Forty Mile issued statements generally in line with the Rural Municipalities Association that the pause is needed for counties to get a handle on a burst of proposals.

However, an ag productivity map released last week to provide impact assessment for potential projects shows large swaths of the least productive ag land exists in southern portions of the county on Crown grazing leases and far away from existing major power lines.

As well, wind and solar can only be approved on deeded land, and using undisturbed native grassland, no matter the quality, is discouraged.

Since timber land is also off limits, developers told Cypress County council last fall the rules essentially limit projects to cultivated acres or pasture.

Keeping transmission fees low would require projects to locate closer to major corridors where irrigation is prevalent and where higher populations may object to the aesthetic of solar fields or turbine towers hundreds of feet tall.

This week, the Business Renewables Centre, which tracks corporate off-take agreements for green power, released a study noting that two southeast Alberta counties could benefit the most for wind and solar development.

Facilities already in operation last October in Forty Mile provide $6.4 million in tax revenue, about half the total income. The amount in Cypress County was set to soar as the EDF Cypress Wind Energy Centre became fully taxable in 2023.

Currently, projects at varied stages comprising more than 20,000 megawatts of capacity have been announced, with BRC saying $277 million in local tax revenue could result if all move ahead.

“Municipalities may never realize the full potential of what this renewable energy revenue boom could do for them … if the provincial government stifles clean energy development with unfair or unnecessary new regulations,” said Jorden Dye, director of BRC-Canada.

Late-stage projects in the region delayed in application process were the proposed Saamis Solar play inside City of Medicine Hat limits, Hays Solar, Aria Solar and Peace Butte Solar.

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