Province implementing strict new rules on renewable energy

by Staff

A seven-month pause on renewable energy projects will lift on Feb. 29 as Alberta rolls out strict new rules on wind and solar projects.

The Government of Alberta says the new rules respond to Alberta municipalities and landowners who have raised concerns about rapid growth in renewable energy projects and investors seeking clarification on rules for project development.

“Alberta has led the country in renewable energy investment, and we will continue to lead the country. At the same time, we must grow our renewable energy industry in well-defined and responsible ways,” said Premier Danielle Smith in a media release Wednesday afternoon. “The past months have enabled us to do the work that we need to do to ensure that the standards we have in place serve Albertans best while continuing to guarantee the affordability and reliability of our electricity grid.”

The Alberta Utility Commission’s Module A report outlines the new policy changes on renewables with a focus on an agriculture-first approach for evaluating land proposed for renewable development. Renewable generation will no longer be allowed on Class 1 and 2 lands unless the proponent can demonstrate the ability for both crops and/or livestock to coexist with the r project, and the province plans to establish tools to make sure native grasslands, irrigable and productive lands continue to be available for agricultural production.

Under the policies developers will be responsible for reclamation costs by way of bond or security, and will either go directly to the government or be negotiated with landowners if sufficient evidence is provided to the AUC.

Preserving view is in the policy with minimum 35-kilometre buffer zones around protected areas and other pristine viewscapes as designated by the province. As such, new wind projects will no longer be permitted in buffer zones, and other proposed developments may be subject to a visual impact assessment before approval.

Crown land will require “meaningful engagement” before any policy changes but will not come into effect until late 2025, and any renewable development will be on a case-by-case basis.

Changes to Alberta’s Transmission Regulation will be available in the coming months after more engagement, but project developers can expect changes in how transmission costs are allocated.

The changes have some wins for municipalities as the policy automatically grants municipalities the right to participate in AUC hearings and the eligibility to request cost recovery for participation. It also allows municipalities to review rules related to municipal submission requirements while clarifying consultation requirements.

To that end, Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) President and Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLaughlin said Wednesday’s announcement shows a recognition by the Government of Alberta that a strategic approach to growing the renewables sector will best position the industry for long-term success.

“While many of the details are still to be determined, RMA is cautiously optimistic that this approach will reduce conflicts between renewable projects, local land use plans and agricultural land preservation and ensure that project owners are responsible for decommissioning and reclamation costs,” McLaughlin said. “RMA also appreciates the changes to the AUC project approval process to ensure municipal involvement, as this will help to allow for local project risks and benefits to be properly considered by the AUC when reviewing new project applications.”

Alberta’s NDP called the policies an attack on renewable energy.  NDP Energy and Climate Critic Nagwan Al-Guneid said the “self-defeating moratorium” on renewables caused major harm to Alberta’s economy, adding new red tape and investor uncertainty and impacting the province’s reputation as an investment destination.

“And now, the UCP is adding more red tape and uncertainty and banning renewable energy projects in some areas of the province. The government is now telling landowners what they can and cannot do with their property and limiting farmers from making extra revenue,” Al-Guneid said. “Investments follow certainty and clarity, and this new red tape won’t help. These rules are anti-business.”


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