Varcoe: Alberta minister says 'Wild, Wild West' wave of improvement triggered pause on renewables

Nate Neudorf mentioned rural Alberta is alarmed by the fast tempo of improvement and use of prime farmland for giant wind and photo voltaic initiatives

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Alberta is the most popular renewable vitality market within the nation, however has it change into too scorching?

Affordability and Utilities Minister Nate Neudorf appears to assume so, placing a six-month pause in place on approvals by the Alberta Utilities Fee (AUC) for brand spanking new renewable technology initiatives.

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It’s, to make certain, a major and controversial coverage determination in a market that’s efficiently drawing in billions of {dollars} in funding in wind and photo voltaic, creating jobs and producing native taxes, whereas rising and greening the province’s energy grid.

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The freeze, which kicks in Thursday and can prolong till Feb. 29 of subsequent yr, is meant to present the fee time to evaluation and set up insurance policies surrounding granting approval to new renewable developments bigger than one megawatt.

In an interview, Neudorf mentioned the federal government and AUC made the choice due to issues voiced by the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), landowners and different gamers on quite a lot of points, together with the fast tempo of improvement and use of prime farmland for such amenities.

Different issues might be examined, such because the influence of renewables “on Alberta’s pristine viewscapes,” the potential for necessary reclamation safety necessities for brand spanking new renewable technology — comparable to bonds — and the influence of extra wind and photo voltaic on the province’s technology provide combine and grid reliability.

Fort Macleod wind farm
A wind farm close to Fort MacLeod. Postmedia file photograph

“We wished to begin instantly on some vital points which have been raised by business, municipalities, particular person landowners and even the AUC,” Neudorf mentioned.

“Among the conversations we’ve had from some stakeholders say that proper now, Alberta has a little bit of a Wild, Wild West really feel to it on this, as a result of we’ve acquired so many coming and we need to ensure that we haven’t ignored issues.”

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Initiatives which have already been accepted can proceed transferring ahead.

The coverage is already contentious.

“It is rather disappointing and it’s essential that we decrease the pause. I’m apprehensive about investor confidence,” Canadian Renewable Power Affiliation CEO Vittoria Bellissimo mentioned Thursday, calling the transfer a mistake.

“Alberta goes to see quite a lot of strain to get this proper — and get it proper in a short time. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to see funding and jobs circulate to different jurisdictions in a short time.”

Alberta has change into a magnet for such initiatives lately, because of glorious wind and photo voltaic assets and a market construction that usually welcomes new private-sector electrical energy technology.

The province’s deregulated energy market permits corporations to construct new renewable initiatives and promote the electrical energy, together with related renewable vitality credit, to company clients by means of energy buy agreements.

Such initiatives have attracted corporations as various as Labatt Breweries of Canada, Amazon, RBC, Shell, TC Power and Microsoft to ink such offers.

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Earlier this yr, the Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada reported company procurement of renewable initiatives had topped $4.7 billion in funding over the previous decade.

The Canadian Renewable Power Affiliation factors out Alberta noticed 1,391 megawatts of put in renewable capability added final yr, representing greater than 75 per cent of all such additions throughout your entire nation.

In line with a brand new Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO) examine, the province has 1,291 megawatts of photo voltaic and three,731 MW of put in wind technology capability that’s operational.

The province additionally has greater than 3,400 megawatts of wind and photo voltaic initiatives beneath development.

One other 4,585 MW of wind, photo voltaic, and storage initiatives have acquired AUC  approval, whereas a further 20,000 MW of such developments have been introduced.

However the surge in improvement has led to some criticism.

RMA president Paul McLauchlin mentioned municipalities welcome the event and taxes that include renewable initiatives, however he’s heard issues from residents about prime agricultural land getting used for wind and photo voltaic farms.

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There are additionally worries about reclamation necessities as soon as a renewable power-generating facility reaches the tip of its life, given the long-standing issues from growing old oil and gasoline wells, he mentioned.

Solar panels
Photo voltaic panels close to Lomond, about 175 km southeast of Calgary. Mike Drew/Postmedia

“I’m an enormous fan of renewables. That being mentioned, what we’re actually seeing here’s a state of affairs the place the accountability checks on the general public curiosity, we aren’t feeling (they’re) being addressed,” mentioned McLauchlin.

“We’re seeing these initiatives present up all over the place … I believe we let it go too far.”

Nevertheless, Greengate Energy CEO Dan Balaban, whose firm developed the nation’s largest photo voltaic venture in Vulcan County, famous all types of vitality have varied points related to their improvement.

But, a moratorium is simply being imposed on renewables.

“It’s like taking a jackhammer to take care of a nail,” mentioned Balaban, including he was shocked by the choice.

“I’m dumbfounded by the method … How may you presumably assume inserting a moratorium on the event of an business is a constructive sign?”

Because the province, Canada and the world transfer to construct the facility system of the long run to scale back emissions and electrify extra of the economic system, regulators and policymakers will must be nimble and transfer rapidly, added Bellissimo.

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She famous landowners who attain offers to see initiatives on their property are within the driver’s seat and might dictate what they need on their land. Any prolonged delay means builders will look to allocate assets and gear to different jurisdictions.

Neudorf mentioned in speaking with the AUC, it grew to become clear that tips put in place years in the past want updating. He doesn’t assume it should drive funding away, noting the pause might be brief and well-defined.

And the minister reductions criticism the federal government is against extra renewable vitality because the province strikes to satisfy its net-zero ambitions by 2050.

“We need to see extra development going forward,” he mentioned.

“We do need to present clear guardrails for the way and the place that occurs.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

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