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CanREA on renewables moratorium: ‘Reopen the Alberta market ASAP’

Grant Cameron
CanREA on renewables moratorium: ‘Reopen the Alberta market ASAP’

The Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) is worried a seven-month pause on new wind and solar projects in Alberta will cast a negative pall over the industry and undermine investor confidence.

“This is a mistake,” CanREA president and CEO Vittoria Bellissimo explained in a statement. “The Alberta government, Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) and Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) need to move quickly to sort out this situation for all Alberta ratepayers, investors and municipalities.

“Alberta has benefitted from market advantages that have allowed the industry to thrive here, which has benefitted our communities, consumers and landowners. We must not lose this competitive advantage.”

The provincial government announced recently it was putting on hold all applications for renewable energy projects that would produce more than one megawatt of power, so it can review policies, examine where projects can be built and come up with rules to determine what happens when installations reach their end of life.

The government indicated the action was in response to a letter received from the AUC and concerns raised by municipalities and landowners over responsible land use and the pace of renewables development.

“We are proud of our leadership in responsible renewable energy development, and we are committed to its continued growth,” said Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf. “This approach will provide future renewable investments with the certainty and clarity required for long-term development.”

Approvals are on hold until Feb. 29, 2024. The AUC will conduct an inquiry to come up with options for the government to consider. The commission will look at the impact of power plants on the landscape and what impact increasing growth of renewables will have on Alberta’s generation supply mix and electricity system reliability.

At the end of the process, future renewable projects will be able to move forward at a pace that is conducive to business while maintaining responsible environmental stewardship and preserving Alberta’s reliable electricity supply, says a government statement.

Microgeneration projects, those under one megawatt, as well as generation projects in isolated communities unconnected to the grid will be exempt.

The decision was made after Neudorf received a letter from AUC chair Carolyn Dahl Rees, expressing concerns a high volume of new wind, solar and thermal power plant applications were being processed and issues included developing them on high-value agricultural lands and lack of mandatory reclamation security requirements.

Her letter noted there are broad policy issues involving multiple overlapping jurisdictions, stakeholders, ministries, municipalities and landowners and timely, effective resolution is essential to development of new plants.

“The AUC’s case-by-case application process for new power plants is ill-suited to address these broad policy changes,” Rees wrote.

She added effective resolution requires a dedicated period of engagement with all stakeholders, followed by government direction, either in the form of provincial policy or new legislation.

“Such a direction, in our view, would enable a reasonable, robust regulatory framework that is efficient and predictable while being protective of the long-term public interest for all Albertans.”

However, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith – who for months has made it clear she has no intention of complying with the federal government’s 2035 target for net-zero electricity – muddied the waters on a recent call-in show.

She indicated Ottawa and its net-zero target are to blame for the pause, and questioned how additional wind and solar can be brought on if Alberta can’t secure the reliability of its grid by having natural gas peaker plants.

Meanwhile, in a Twitter post, the premier thanked IBEW 424 for supporting the pause and for “highlighting areas of concern in regards to safe labour practices.” She posted a letter from Local 424 business manager Michael Reinhart that indicated there were concerns about the use of unskilled labour on the projects.

“The use of unskilled labour and unsafe conditions on the current projects is concerning and is not in the best interests of the electrical industry,” Reinhart wrote. “To be clear it is our position that the use of unskilled labour on any of these large-scale projects is a concern to us, as is the fact that many workers are not being paid a fair wage for their skillset.

“It is our hope that this moratorium will be an opportunity for the provincial government to consult with ourselves and other industry experts on how to build the best projects possible that are in the interest of all Albertans.”

However, CanREA warns renewable energy development represents a fast-moving global marketplace, characterized by labour mobility and an international supply chain for the technologies, and if international investors sense uncertainty they will target their capital to other provinces and countries with more stability.

“There has never been a better time or more support available to develop renewable energy resources,” said Bellissimo. “CanREA will continue to work closely with the provincial government and municipalities to reopen the Alberta market ASAP.”

According to CanREA, wind and solar are the most affordable forms of new electricity generation available on the market today.

“Policy changes that reduce opportunities for renewables in Alberta will not lower prices for consumers,” the association states. “In fact, a pause will negatively impact ratepayers and limit consumer choice, which will be especially impactful for Alberta communities who are expecting revenue from new renewable energy development.”

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