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Central Alberta’s economy could lose billions because of UCP moratorium on renewable energy: NDP

Government’s reasoning doesn’t make sense: NDP critic
The Pembina Institute says in a new report that nearly $1 billion of potential lost investment as a result of the UCP moratorium would be from the Red Deer area, where four new projects have been halted, totalling $953 million in investment and 451 jobs. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

The UCP’s moratorium on 39 new renewable energy projects in this region could cost central Albertans $11 billion in investment and 7,000 jobs, says the NDP, quoting from the latest Pembina Institute report.

The Alberta’s government’s pause of solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy projects “sends the wrong signal to international investors,” and is giving Alberta a bad reputation, said Kyle Kasawski, the Alberta NDP MLA for Sherwood Park and Critic for Municipal Affairs, Mid-Sized Municipalities and Rural Alberta.

Kasawski was in Red Deer on Tuesday with Nathan Ip, the Alberta NDP critic for Job, Economy and Trade, to pressure the government to lift the moratorium that was imposed on Aug. 3, without consultation with Albertan citizens or industry.

Alberta Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf’s office responded to this criticism on Tuesday by saying there are only 13 projects province-wide that are currently before the Alberta Utilities Commission. “None of these projects have been cancelled and all projects that have been approved will continue towards construction.”

The discrepancy comes from the fact that some projects the Pembina Institute counted are in the development stages and were not ready to go before the AUC. The Pembina Institute’s project numbers were obtained from the Alberta Electric System Operator, which operates the grid (while the AUC regulates it).

The two NDP MLAs drew attention to a Pembina Institute report that shows a seven-month moratorium on new renewable energy projects could cost this province a total of $33 billion in business investment, 24,000 full-time job years, and $263 million in lost municipal taxes.

Kasawski said among the missed economic opportunities could be renewable energy projects near Red Deer, Innisfail, Caroline, Battle River, Didsbury, Empress, Hanna, Provost and other places. These would total $11 billion in investment and about 7,000 jobs.

The Pembina report states, nearly $1 billion of this potentially lost investment would be from the Red Deer area, where four new projects have been halted, totalling $953 million in investment and 451 jobs.

These include two big projects proposed by Kiwetinohk Energy — Phoenix Star ($447 million investment/371 jobs) and Springbrook Solar ($449 million in investment/372 jobs). As well there is Red Deer DER Solar, proposed by Fortis ($27 million in investment, 23 jobs), and Saturn Power’s proposed Springbrook West Solar ($30 million in investment/25 jobs).

Innisfail’s paused solar power generation facility was proposed for a six-acre brownfield site and would produce two megawatts of electricity. It’s fairly small, Innisfail’s Mayor Jean Barclay said last week, so “it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pause something like this.”

Kasawski said he also doesn’t understand the government’s reasoning since investment in renewables does not have to mean less investment in oil and gas; “We could invest in both.”

Premier Danielle Smith gave various reasons for the moratorium earlier this month — among them were rural concerns about impacts of these projects. The Alberta government said the Alberta Utilities Commission would initiate an inquiry into issues of development on agricultural land, the effect on scenery, reclamation security, role of municipalities and system reliability.

But the NDP contends Alberta is getting negative headlines around the world by pausing these projects. “The UCP’s renewables moratorium is anti-business and shows the UCP can’t be trusted to manage our economy,” said Ip. “If we want to attract investment and create jobs in central Alberta, the UCP must end this moratorium immediately and tell the world we are once again open for business.”

More energy projects in Alberta would mean more electricity for the province’s power grid, which was in a “Grid Alert” position on Monday. According to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), hot weather and low wind conditions, coupled with an outage in B.C. were straining the province’s electrical grid.

Kasawski added a growing supply could also lower people’s power bills, which many Albertans complained were unacceptably high this summer.

But, according to the office of Alberta’s Utilities Minister, the Grid Alert was “because the NDP pushed through an early exit from coal in 2015 without a proper plan to integrate renewables into the grid.

“While Alberta’s total grid capacity has increased, we have seen a decrease in reliable on-demand baseload power. The bulk of this increase has come in solar and wind and when the wind is not blowing, as was the case yesterday, we run into supply issues.”