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Solar project updates

Posted on November 21, 2019 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cole Parkinson
Vauxhall Advance

Progress continues on RenuWell’s goal to place small-scale solar projects on abandoned oil well lease sites.

With discussions between the Municipal District of Taber and Renuwell team taking place earlier this year, a delegation from RenuWell was in council chambers for the M.D.’s regular meeting on Nov. 5.

The RenuWell team first highlighted the work between themselves and the M.D. and how that has progressed so far.

“We received the funding for this in April and I appreciate everyone’s time. We got this application quickly and we have had terrific cooperation from (M.D.) staff to get the application in. What we promised the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre and by extension, the Rural Municipal Association, that we would develop a template for land use bylaw and development approval taxation and then to develop a handbook for municipal governments to evaluate applications to transition abandoned oil and gas leases to solar,” explained Keith Hirsch from RenuWell.

As far as where the group is on their timeline, Hirsche reports some good news on that front, for the most part.

“We are pretty much on schedule. Some of the timelines have been extended a bit but we are basically in the home stretch. In the big picture, and the budget, almost half of the budget was stakeholder consultation. That is coming to an end and we have a meeting (Nov. 5) to report back to local stakeholders on what we have heard and make sure we have heard everyone correctly. And we’re here today to make sure we have heard from your perspective correctly as well,” he explained. “We are seven months through a 10 and a half month project so that is about 67 per cent completed. In terms of spending and the M.D. staff, 57 per cent of the budget has been spent between staff time and expenses. On our side, we have spent 63 per cent of our budget so we are tracking very closely. We have spent 63 per cent and we are 67 per cent of the time through, that is saying we are a little bit behind on what our original goal was.”

He also explained to council that the group is scheduled to complete their work on Feb. 7 with project reports due on Feb. 21.

With the pilot project going on a 2.7-acre piece of land six kilometres southwest of Taber, Hirsche explained in an earlier interview with the Advance that construction is scheduled to start in early 2020, with electricity being generated three months after completion.

Hirsche explained to council a reason for the delays is due to Fortis and some of the requirements needed.

Another hurdle the group has faced has been oil and gas industry hesitancy.

“There was certain resistance at times from the oil and gas industry but we have ended up having very good ties with the Landmen Association,” said Hirsche, who also explained that discussion has smoothed out some of the prior concerns. “We are getting better and better support from the oil and gas side.”

In further consultations, the group also got feedback on how current landowners feel about oil and gas leases.

“We asked landowners about the perspective of oil and gas cleanup and 93 per cent said there should be a high-priority for provincial and municipal government. Eighty-six per cent who responded said they supported renewable energy projects and felt the municipality and province should continue to support that direction. Eighty-three per cent were either moderately or highly interested in having a solar project on their land. In general, 73 per cent of the respondents felt the project would be beneficial in re-using the abandoned oil and gas sites for solar. Zero per cent thought it would have a negative effect,” continued Hirsche.

Other avenues were entirely possible but so far solar has been the best fit for purposes in the region.

“Solar, for this scale, really seems to be the most cost-effective and most adaptable technology,” answered Hirsche, who also provided a more updated list of potential sites in the M.D. “We did a more detailed analysis and there is over 7,000 wells licensed in the M.D. Twenty-five companies account for 6,000 of those. In April it was 50-50, 3,000 active and 3,000 inactive. Now we are at 2,700 and something active and 3,200 inactive. Every month that balance is tipping. Only 830 wells have actually received a reclamation ticket in the M.D. which is about 50 a year.”

The Orphan Well Association has also been providing some assistance to RenuWell and their projects moving forward.

“We have been working increasingly closer with the Orphan Well Association and focusing on the M.D. of Taber on things we may be able to do proactively here. They currently have 448 leases in the M.D.,” said Hirsche. “The abandonment cost for the Orphan Well Association is just under $10 million, reclamation costs of about $4.4 and the overall closure costs are $14 million conservatively.”

“This is assuming there is no remediation and no contamination so of course, it can go higher.”

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