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Regulator to continue processing renewable energy applications while review underway

Rural municipalities support regulator’s approach as long as their concerns addressed
A 47-megawatt solar power facility near Joffre is expected to start producing power next month. PACE Canada LP has even bigger plans for the area. A 300-megawatt facility is in the planning stages. (Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff)

Alberta Utilities Commission appears headed in the right direction with how it is handling its moratorium on renewable energy projects, says the Rural Municipalities of Alberta president.

AUC said on Tuesday that it will continue to fully process new and existing applications but hold off on issuing approvals until after the moratorium expires at the end of February. The pause was ordered by Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf to allow the AUC to prepare a report on the ongoing economic, orderly and efficient development of electricity generation.

The decision to continue processing applications was made after the AUC sought feedback from stakeholders and more than 600 submissions were received. Other options considered were stopping all processing or processing only applications already in the system.

RMA president Paul McLauchlin expects rural municipalities will have no problem continuing to process applications as long as municipalities’ concerns are addressed and become part of approval requirements. Communities want a bigger say in the approval process and to ensure local planning considerations, including the compatibility of land uses, are taken into account.

Municipalities also want airtight regulations to ensure companies have the money available to pay for all reclamation costs when renewable energy projects reach the end of their lifespan.

“We’ve had some experience around irrevocable letters of credit around oil and gas,” he said, adding they did not prove near as irrevocable as municipalities had been led to believe.

The bankruptcy of Trident Exploration Corp, which walked away from its 4,700 wells turning them over to the Alberta Energy Regulator in 2019, saw letters of credit meant to cover future cleanup bills withdrawn in the ensuing financial mess.

McLauchlin said municipalities want assurances that securities will be held in trust and safe from bankruptcies or other financial changes in fortune.

“This is all predicated on our experience with oil and gas,” he said.

Municipalities are hoping that the government review of renewable energy projects addresses concerns, answers questions about the projects and incorporates more safeguards into the approval process.

“I think these are things that can be answered at any stage of the project process,” said McLauchlin.

The RMA also wants to see projects the transmission component of projects and how it will be linked to and affect the province’s power grid be dealt with along with the siting of renewable energy projects and their generating facilities.

Kiwetinohk Energy Corp. hopes to build its solar project on about 930 acres of private land, about six km southwest of Sylvan Lake. The $320-million solar farm and its 386,000 panels will be linked to the province’s electrical grid by a 138-kilovolt transmission line.

“We will continue to work through the AUC process and working with stakeholders to move our projects forward,” said Kiwetinohk vice-president of finance Craig Parsons in an email. “They have provided clarity as to the process which is very helpful.

“We look forward to working with the AUC and on satisfying current and any future amendments to the process. We have proactive in dealing with stakeholder concerns and are currently working on agrivoltaic solutions as well as a plan for site remediation among other concerns.”

AUC says it plans to apply current regulations to all existing and new renewable energy applications. However, at the same time those regulations could be supplemented with “new, interim information requirements relating to such issues as agricultural land, viewscapes and reclamation security.”

Details on the new information requirements are expected soon.

“The AUC is satisfied that this approach provides regulatory clarity to stakeholders, while continuing the orderly and comprehensive consideration of all applications before it.”

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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