By Cole Parkinson
With the Municipal District of Taber dipping their toes in more and more renewable energy projects, SouthGrow Executive Director Peter Casurella encouraged council to continue to pursue those opportunities.
At M.D. council’s regular meeting on July 27, Casurella spoke about several different projects SouthGrow is working on in 2021. With the conversation shifting to renewable energy projects, Casurella explained the M.D. was in a unique position, especially with solar, and how it could benefit the municipality in the near future. While renewables have started to expand across Alberta, the vast majority of energy is still supplied by traditional means.
But with the federal government wanting to phase out coal by 2030, Casurella explained how that could be in the M.D.’s favour.
“During the height of the heat dome, we all lived through that and if you went on ASO’s website, you saw there was still like 87, 88, 89 per cent of the provincial energy mix was still natural gas and coal generation. The remaining 11, 12, 13 per cent was coming from wind, solar, and hydro,” stated Casurella. “There’s a mandate in Canada to get off coal, and coal represents about 30 per cent of that 80 per cent of energy production. Now there’s got to be a massive push in transition in order for that goal to be achieved. And even if that goal is missed, there’s still going to be a massive push in transmission and there’s going to be billions and billions of dollars coming in renewable energy projects flowing downhill.”
“Now, for you, who are sitting in an area where your transmission capacity is pretty good, and you’re in one of the highest solar potential regions in the entire country, this is a massive opportunity to replace some linear taxation that is flowing out, with some sustainable, good taxation. I know of the projects you’re working on with RenuWell and it’s awesome. That’s super promising, I want that to roll out across the entire southern Alberta region, but anything you can do as a council to further enable that will yield dividends in the coming decades.”
With lots of land across the municipality, Casurella explained that taking the poor quality pieces unsuitable for agriculture and turning it into solar is an option worth pursuing.
“Things like looking at your land-use planning and identifying, and specifically tying it to a communications piece. Identifying marginal land, which is not useful for agriculture or it doesn’t yield the returns people need off agriculture, so therefore it’s not great. Specifically pulling those pieces of land out and working with Fortis to look at how you can potentially pre-qualify transmission access to those pieces of land,” he continued. “Then, working on the communication side to bring about the culture within the M.D. up to the point where they say ‘council’s really thinking ahead, they’re not giving away our agricultural land. They’re not taking farming land out of circulation,’ because that’s the biggest pushback we all face. ‘They’re specifically tagging non-productive land for energy use.’ And it’s different from oil and gas where they just let everybody dig wherever they wanted to.”
While the solar projects would benefit the municipality, Casurella explained taxpayers would also see lots of advantages.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can set yourself up for success in the coming decades so you have your linear tax assessment and you’re not impacting your farming and your population is coming along with you for the ride. They see the benefits as your linear tax assessment starts to go up and you’re able to fund more projects for the people.”
Another interesting project brought forward by Casurella revolved around waste disposal.
While the M.D. of Taber has been back and forth on the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association, Casurella explained a new project that would see a smaller scale project.
“The incinerator pilot project with the Town of Nobleford is really intriguing and interesting. The basic overview there is incinerating garbage in a modern incinerator reduces your GHG output by 28 per cent overhauling and dumping. We are doing the feasibility study with Nobleford right now in order to prove that,” continued Casurella. “We have an engineering company that’s working with this, MPE, in order to get it all official. Then we’re going to go to the FCM to try and get approval to get help funding the installation of an incinerator in Nobleford in order to burn garbage.”
“The difficulty is cultural acceptance of incinerating garbage because we’ve been taught for so long that you don’t do this. You know — reduce, reuse, and recycle, but the reality is a bit different than what we’ve been taught. If we can prove and show this is the environmentally responsible choice, there are opportunities in the future to further reduce the GHG remissions. We’ve had a ton of support from the ground level from all of the different regional waste commissions.”
With the Town of Coaldale exploring a waste to energy project, council asked if it was similar to the project out in Nobleford.
“Our role (in Coaldale) at the early days of that project was mostly on helping shop the opportunity around to different communities and introduced them to the people who might be able to take advantage of it. They went to several communities, including Taber, having conversations in the early days. We helped introduce them to different government officials and partners who they could go after for grants as well,” explained Casurella. “It is a recycling facility, it’s a waste diversion facility which isn’t there yet. Their goal and their intent is to eventually keep building infrastructure so the stuff that they can’t recycle doesn’t just go into an unusable pile some place or into the landfill, but goes into an energy production facility right there on-site and produces energy that is used to power the facility and goes into the town as well. They also want to put on some EV chargers on-site. It’s really aiming to deal with the entire stream that comes into that diversion facility without landfilling anything.”
Looking specifically at SAEWA, council asked if SouthGrow was involved with that project at all.
SAEWA is looking to develop an energy from waste facility that “will handle the conversion of municipal and other sources of solid waste into energy.”
“I don’t know where SAEWA is at, and I don’t know what your relationship with SAEWA is, but it seems like it’s almost the same sort of concept,” stated Reeve Merrill Harris.
While the concepts might be similar, Casurella explained the incinerator in Nobleford would be a much smaller endeavour than the SAEWA-led project.
“It is, and it isn’t. The problem with SAEWA is it’s just so bloody big and the price keeps going up and up and up and up. There’s just no appetite anymore from the provincial government to contribute the portion they previously promised,” replied Casurella. “I’m not optimistic about the success of SAEWA. I’ve certainly supported that project the entire time that it’s been talked about, and I’m sure you all have as well. I think micro-incineration is much more achievable. It’s a lot easier, the cost is a couple of million dollars to build and install one of these things. It can handle waste output from multiple communities and it provides the revenue stream for the municipality as well.”
“I know one of the things from the very beginning was the cost. It was going to be like, and I can’t remember the exact number, but it wasn’t going to be, for our municipality, feasible. We still participated, but the costs were horrendous,” added Harris.
Casurella further explained that if more municipalities explored micro-incineration, it would eventually lead to grants being available.
“If you have several municipalities across southern Alberta putting in micro-incineration, and innovating around that, chasing more and more grant streams that we will see coming available to reduce GHG emissions in the future in order to install new technology on that incinerator. And in order to vertically integrate it to produce other products from that waste — that’s a very promising line of inquiry.”