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‘Balanced approach’: Reaction to Alberta’s renewable development changes

The Alberta Government unveiled its new regulations for renewable energy on Wednesday. As the reaction continues to come in, there’s disagreement about whether the changes might help or hinder development.

Premier Danielle Smith and Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf announced the changes on Feb. 28th, which include a ban on new wind projects located within a 35-kilometre “buffer zone” around protected areas and other “pristine viewscapes” designated by the province.

The province also said the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) will follow an “agriculture first” approach when evaluating proposed renewables development on agricultural lands.

It said Alberta will no longer permit renewable generation developments on certain lands unless crops or livestock can coexist with the proposed renewable generation project.

Developers will be responsible for reclamation costs, provided directly to the Alberta government or negotiated with landowners if sufficient evidence is provided to the AUC.

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The province also announced the end of its 6-month moratorium on renewable projects, with stricter rules to preserve Alberta’s scenic landscapes. The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) says it was pleasantly surprised by the policy changes.

“I think it’s a pretty balanced approach. The devil is in the details, we’ll see what the fine print is but overall we are happy. We do feel like the province has listened to the concerns that we’ve had,” said the RMA’s Jason Schneider.

Click to play video: 'Alberta unveils strict new rules for renewable energy'

Alberta unveils strict new rules for renewable energy

Schneider is also the Reeve of Vulcan County, the county has more than 150 wind turbines and by the end of 2024 plans to have almost 1300 megawatts of wind and solar.

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He believes the new rules might inspire other municipalities and stakeholders to take that leap.

“It might actually make the process go by a little bit faster for developers because those questions aren’t going to be lingering like they have been previously,” Schneider said.

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However, the Pembina Institute says it can’t breeze past the changes. Senior Analyst Jason Wang says he expects growth to slow tremendously in Alberta.

“The new announcements have led to a lot of uncertainty. It’s not clear what the rules are actually going to be, nor the timeline for when they are going to be finalized,” Wang said.

The province is establishing buffer zones around protected areas where projects will not be allowed. Wang says that may not leave enough space for growth in the province.

“If you look at the buffer zones of 35-kilometre around those areas, 76 per cent of Southern Alberta would actually be off limits for wind energy development,” said Wang.

Click to play video: 'Renewable energy advocates react to new Alberta rules'

Renewable energy advocates react to new Alberta rules

Right now, the UCP says the restrictions around natural features and farmland only apply to the development of renewables. Other proposed developments located within the buffer zone may be subject to a visual impact assessment before approval.

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Wang is concerned even after consultation that other industries will not be held to the same standards.

“Now we suddenly have rules for one sector that is quite stifling for investment whereas we’re not seeing this applied to other sectors. We should also ensure that these new types of considerations whether ‘pristine viewscapes’ or agricultural based are applied fairly to all types of development in the province,” he said.

Schneider says with how quickly the industry is changing, the more details the province can provide soon, the better. He is looking for clarification on what defines a scenic view as well as where these areas will be located.

Schneider also says he will do his best to avoid worrying about the specifics before more information is released.

“We don’t want to stop this. We just want to make sure that there are rules in place and the policies in place are up to date,” he said.

With files from the Canadian Press

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