Certain rural communities in Alberta are voicing their opposition to the seven-month suspension imposed by the provincial government on the approval of new renewable energy projects.

When Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf announced the temporary halt in early August, he highlighted concerns from rural municipalities regarding landowners’ rights and the eventual decommissioning of solar and wind farm sites. However, Vittoria Bellissimo, the president and CEO of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, stated that the issues supposedly triggering the ban were already in discussion and on track to being resolved.

Recently, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta refuted Premier Danielle Smith’s claim that they had requested the moratorium, as reported by The Globe and Mail. Subsequently, individual communities are now speaking out against the decision.

John Rimmer, mayor of Caroline, expressed his disappointment, stating that the government’s action has halted a solar project that would have contributed significantly to the community’s municipal budget. Rimmer and the village council have sent a letter to Smith advocating for the lifting of the moratorium, warning that such government decisions will not be viewed kindly by corporations.

The mayor also noted that he has been “ghosted,” as he has received no response to his numerous emails.

Innisfail, another town in central Alberta, has sent a similar letter to Smith, emphasizing how the moratorium is detrimental to municipalities like theirs. The moratorium hinders the generation of much-needed revenue and will necessitate property tax increases.

The Peace River Project in Jeopardy

As the Alberta government ghosts rural mayors, it’s also threatening the future of the 13-hectare Peace River Energy Project.

The Peace River Energy Project is the first cooperatively-financed solar farm in western Canada. The project was about to receive approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission to begin construction when the moratorium was announced.

The solar farm, a non-profit initiative located near Peace River, would generate enough power for 1,200 homes. It would also lower local power rates and provide additional income to the co-op’s 650 members, as reported by The Tyee.

The president of the co-op, Joanne Dueck, expressed her disappointment, highlighting the government’s preference for fossil fuels and the challenges faced by renewable energy projects. Dueck explained the uphill battle faced by the co-op in preserving their interests.

A spokesperson for Neudorf, Josh Aldrich, acknowledged the receipt of a “small number” of letters regarding the matter but did not disclose the senders. Aldrich emphasized their commitment to collaborating with municipal leaders, landowners, and the industry to ensure that future regulatory changes align with the needs of Albertans.

Loss of Tax Revenue

According to the Calgary-based Pembina Institute, the pause in renewable energy development will impact 118 projects, including solar, wind, and geothermal, with an estimated value of CAD $33 billion.

The moratorium will have significant economic implications. Some of the consequences include job losses for approximately 24,000 people and a decrease in local tax revenue and lease payments for landowners in 27 municipalities. Most of these municipalities are smaller communities.

Innisfail, for instance, had plans to develop its own project, which would have generated approximately $500,000 annually, equivalent to a 6% increase in property tax.

The government explained that the pause was in response to concerns expressed by counties and municipal districts regarding the use of agricultural land and the lack of remediation regulations. However, Innisfail’s mayor argued that their project was situated on former industrial land with limited alternative uses.

While the utilities regulator in Alberta has committed to processing applications, there is no guarantee that projects will proceed. The outcome remains uncertain.

Rimmer noted that counties and districts often have different interests compared to larger municipalities, which have more access to diverse tax sources. Several rural municipalities in Alberta are discovering that they cannot rely on local oil and gas operators to fulfill their tax obligations.

Smith and Trudeau – Two Sides of the Same Coin? 

According to The Energy Mix, Caroline has been diligently working to attract a developer specializing in renewable energy for numerous years. Mayor Rimmer dismissed the government’s explanation for the pause as “an excuse.”

“It’s like when the cars came out—everybody was against it because it would scare the horses.”

Rimmer criticized the Smith government’s decision for impeding the progress of renewable power, drawing parallels to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attacks on the fossil fuel industry.

Rimmer recently told reporters that Alberta “is doing the same thing as those goobers down in Ottawa.” Rimmer is warning that the town’s solar project may ultimately be abandoned.

Josh Aldrich, spokesperson for Neudorf, pointed out that only 13 projects are awaiting approval from the regulator. He highlighted a recent grid alert issued by the Alberta electricity operator as justification for the moratorium. According to Aldrich, the grid alert indicates an imbalance in the province’s electrical system.

The moratorium on renewable energy approvals in Alberta is set to conclude on February 29, 2024.

Image Source: Global News Radio 880 Edmonton, https://shorturl.at/bEV19