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Millions on hold in southern Alberta with renewables pause: Pembina Institute

Posted on September 21, 2023 by Vauxhall Advance

By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers

Renewable power plant proposals that are now on hold could have provided a substantial boost to the rural Alberta tax base in southern Alberta according to a new study by think tank, the Pembina Centre.

It was held up recently by the Alberta New Democrats who continued to call the province to reverse a six-month pause on new approvals enacted in August.

That report estimates annual payments to landowners and taxing jurisdictions could total $260 million if 120 wind and solar projects in advanced development were to be built at a total cost of $33 billion.

That includes around $44 million in Medicine Hat and nearby counties from a handful of major utility projects.

“It’s in every region of the province – from Peace River to the U.S. border,” said NDP energy critic MLA Nagwan Al-Guneid during a press conference on Aug. 24.

“The total investment would be more than the capital investment of the oil industry in 2023, but this is not to pit one industry against another … The scale of the renewables sector holds the potential to diversify our economy.”

According to Pembina, that could provide huge growth in tax assessment base of rural municipalities – as much as 50 per cent in the case of the County of Forty Mile.

Premier Danielle Smith has claimed regulators requested the pause to better deal with a massive glut of renewable proposals. Plans for projects totalling 18,000 megawatts of green power production were analyzed by Pembina. That’s about the size of Alberta’s existing generation capacity.

The Alberta Utilities Commission and Alberta Electric System Operator updated its process on Aug. 23 however, to still include early permit work and hearings, but new rules on siting, reclamation, protecting agricultural land and proximity to power lines may become factors in future approvals.

Al-Guneid says that will quell investment.

“Companies need certainty and (the pause) sends mixed signals to investors looking to bring money into Alberta,” she said.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Justin Wright told Southern Alberta Newspapers the halt is needed and will result in “a quick and straightforward approval process compared to other jurisdictions in Canada and North America.”

“(The Alberta sector) has seen tremendous growth and investment over the past several years, including in the Medicine Hat region,” he continued

“This boom in development has created many benefits for our province, including a diversified power market, but it has also led to significant concerns.”

Al-Guneid said the sector is facing a freeze that no other energy producers face, and she worries ranchers and farmers who want to lease to green projects may not be represented in the review.

The Pembina report outlines economic advantages of the projects in a list that estimates tens of millions of new dollars per year of revenue for the counties of Cypress, Forty Mile, Newell and the M.D. of Taber, along with the City of Medicine Hat.

DP Energy’s Saamis Solar project would see a solar array cover more than 1,000 acres of former industrial and grassland in northern Crescent Heights, and was being rescheduled for an approval hearing when the halt on new approvals was announced Aug. 3.

Memorandum of Understanding

Council discussed that the Town of Taber requested that the Town of Vauxhall enter into a Memorandum of Understanding. The memorandum, Council said, would include $250 a month to be part of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program, a program that brings newcomers to work in the region. Council said that to their knowledge, two businesses have utilized their program and this program fast tracks said workers for their permanent residency. Those involved in the program have to secure housing, either buying, renting, or living with a family member, to be approved for the program, according to Council. Council ultimately decided to talk to the businesses that have utilized the program and they also moved the topic to budget deliberations later in the year.

FCSS Community Needs Assessment Project Request

Council discussed a request that the Village of Stirling made to each of the BEW FCSS participating municipal councils to show support for the Village of Stirling as they submit an application for an Alberta Community Partnership Intermunicipal Collaboration Funding grant that is intended to fund a community needs assessment project. Council said that if the Village of Stirling succeeds in getting the grant, they would hire a consultant who would assess the community of Vauxhall as well as all the other individual communities and find out what everyone’s needs are for social services. What that would do, Council says, is when the Councils have opportunities to go speak to government ministers, they would have the information from Community Needs Assessments to tell them the specific needs that their communities have. Council ultimately decided to approve participating with the Village of Stirling in applying for an Alberta Community Partnership Intermunicipal Collaboration Funding Grant.

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