Some Alberta communities are pushing back against the provincial government’s six-month pause on approvals of new renewable energy projects.
“They pulled the rug out from under us,” said John Rimmer, mayor of Caroline, where the United Conservative government’s move has stranded a solar project that would have contributed at least 15 per cent of the community’s municipal budget.
Rimmer and the rest of village council sent a letter to Premier Danielle Smith saying the moratorium should be lifted.
“Corporations … will not look kindly on these sorts of government decisions,” the letter says. “Instead of a much-needed increase in our tax revenue, Caroline again will have to continue to move closer to dissolution.”
Rimmer said his concerns are being ignored.
“I’ve sent lots of emails. I’ve been ghosted.”
Innisfail, another town in central Alberta, has sent a similar letter to Smith.
“This moratorium is harmful to municipalities like ours, preventing us from generating needed revenue to keep property tax increases at a minimum, while continuing to provide the services and facilities required to retain and attract new residents and businesses,” said the letter, signed by Mayor Jean Barclay.
Josh Aldrich, spokesman for Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf, confirmed a “small number” of letters have been received, although he didn’t identify the senders.
“We are committed to working with municipal leaders, along with landowners, and industry to ensure that any future regulatory changes meet the needs of Albertans,” Aldrich said.
Innisfail was hoping to develop a project itself, said Barclay. She said it would have brought in about $500,000 a year, the equivalent of a six per cent property tax increase.
The government has said the pause was made in response to concerns expressed by counties and municipal districts about the loss of agricultural land and the lack of rules around remediation. It is undertaking an inquiry of what safeguards are needed.
Barclay said Innisfail’s project was on former industrial land that wouldn’t have been useful for anything else.
“I understand the concern about prime agricultural land, but we use prime agricultural land for concrete and pavement, too.”
She said even though Alberta’s utilities regulator has promised to process applications while stopping short of issuing approvals, there are no guarantees projects will proceed.
“That depends on what the outcome is,” she said. “We don’t really know.”
Rimmer points out that counties and districts don’t necessarily have the same interests as municipalities. Those groups have access to tax sources that his council doesn’t, he said.
“We also need tax revenues in order to sustain ourselves,” he said. “(The province) keeps downloading more stuff on us.”
Rimmer said Caroline has worked for years to attract a renewable power developer. He called the government’s reason for the pause “an excuse.”
“It’s like when the cars came out — everybody was against it because it would scare the horses.”
Rimmer said the United Conservatives’ move is having the same effect on renewable power as the federal Liberals are having on fossil fuels.
“(The province) is doing the same thing as those goobers down in Ottawa. This project could be toast.”
Last week, a clean energy think tank released an analysis of the potential impact of the pause.
The Pembina Institute concluded that 118 projects had been affected, representing $33 billion in investment and enough work to give 24,000 people a job for a year. Pembina’s analysis found the majority of them were to be built near communities of less than 100,000.
“When projects are built and running, there is a steady, consistent stream of revenue coming into those communities,” said Kyle Kasawski, New Democrat critic for municipal affairs, mid-sized municipalities and rural Alberta.
Aldrich said there are only 13 projects awaiting for approval from the regulator.
He pointed to a recent grid alert issued by the Alberta electricity operator as proof the province’s electrical system is unbalanced.
On Monday, the Alberta Electric System Operator said low winds and problems with power transmission from British Columbia strained the system.
Alberta’s moratorium on renewables approvals comes off Feb. 29, 2024.