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Central Alberta solar projects delayed by moratorium

Projects in Innisfail and Caroline now on hold
A new 25.4-megawatt solar farm, located just outside Innisfail. The project is a merchant solar farm, the first of its kind in Alberta. Other solar power generation projects slated for Caroline and Innisfail will be delayed because of a government moratorium on wind and solar projects. (Photo courtesy of GP Joule) (Photo courtesy of GP Joule)

Innisfail Mayor Jean Barclay sees no reason her community’s small solar power project should be delayed.

The project to build a solar power generation facility in a local industrial park producing up to two megawatts of electricity has been caught up in the Alberta government’s six-month moratorium on approving solar and wind projects greater than one megawatt.

Barclay said the town’s project is small and would be built on a six-acre brownfield site in an industrial area.

“It does not make a lot of sense to pause something like this,” she said on Tuesday.

The government says the Alberta Utilities Commission will use that window to undertake an inquiry that will include reviewing the use of agricultural and public land for wind and solar projects, land reclamation, and the role of municipal governments in the approval process.

Innisfail had planned to submit an application for its municipally funded project later this year, with construction coming as soon as mid- or late-2024 depending on council budget approval.

Barclay said that besides producing a source of renewable energy the project was expected to generate about $500,000 in revenue annually.

“That’s very significant. It’s very disappointing to see a blanket moratorium on renewables right now,” she said.

“I haven’t seen any other industry where this has happened to where you’re looking at billions of dollars in projects.”

The government said 15 renewable energy projects awaiting AUC approval will be affected. However, the Pembina Institute estimated the pause puts 91 projects worth $25 billion of investments and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

The town will be providing feedback to the AUC and letters are being sent to MLAs and government ministers urging that the town’s solar project be exempted from the moratorium.

Caroline Mayor John Rimmer is also disappointed that a much-anticipated solar energy project planned for that community of about 500 is now on hold.

PACE Canada LP has proposed building a 14-megawatt solar power project on 57 acres of farmland within the village’s boundaries. Once operating, the $17 million solar project will reduce annual carbon emissions by about 12,300 tonnes and 273,000 tonnes over the 25-year life of the project.

For Caroline and its population of about 500 the project was expected to generate up to $150,000 in taxes, representing a 10 per cent boost in the community’s revenues.

“(The moratorium) will impact us. We weren’t counting our chickens before they hatch but (the project) certainly would have helped in attracting more businesses as well,” he said, adding there are companies interested in tapping into green energy sources as the federal government pushes forward with plans to reduce Canada’s reliance on fossil fuels.

He said he understands the concerns around using good farmland for renewable energy projects. The Caroline project would also be going on farmland, but it was an area slated for future community growth and the presence of a sour gas pipeline limited development options, making it ideal for an initiative such as a solar power generating plant.

As well, the solar installation will be designed so that the landowners, who have farmed the land for property for many years, can continue to graze animals.

PACE Canada director of development Claude Mindorff said while they take issue with the moratorium decision the company will continue to work collaboratively with the government “to get the best outcomes for everyone in Alberta, including renewable energy.

“The goal here is responsible development that benefits the Province of Alberta and ratepayers and that’s the type of development that we do.”

PACE is behind a 47-megawatt solar power facility near Joffre that will soon connect toh the provincial grid and is not be affected by the moratorium. It is one of 14 PACE projects in the works across Alberta.

The AUC moratorium is unprecedented. Other issues have been dealt with during the decision-making process, said Mindorff.

“The AUC has stepped out of its normal operating position to take this very unusual step, which I think is politically motivated.”

Mindorff said PACE would like to see projects proceed, such as the Caroline facility, that are not affected by the issues the government is concerned about and that the AUC continue to take applications for those kinds of projects. A firm deadline for the moratorium will also be sought.

The United Conservative Party government has faced criticism for announcing the moratorium with no advance notice and without consulting stakeholders, jeopardizing billions of dollars in potential investment in renewables.

Smith dismissed suggestions that the temporary ban would put a chill on future investment, stating the review has a firm end date of Feb. 29.

“Six months from now, we’ll be able to have a framework, and everybody will be able to proceed with their investment, knowing that those are the considerations that we have in mind,” she said.

– With files from The Canadian Press

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