The Rural Municipalities of Alberta says it never asked for a pause on approvals of renewable-energy projects in the province, despite Premier Danielle Smith’s assertion that the organization passed a motion requesting the moratorium.
The United Conservative Party government announced the pause on all such approvals in early August. It cited a need to review various concerns, including reclamation rules, how wind and solar installations affect viewscapes, and worries that prime agricultural land was being used for renewables. The pause is set to expire on Feb. 29, 2024.
The government did not consult with the renewables sector before the surprise announcement, which drew a widespread rebuke from developers that have project applications in the pipeline.
Ms. Smith has said that various bodies requested a pause, including the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).
“I hope you’ll also interview Paul McLauchlin with the Rural Municipalities Association [sic], because they passed a motion asking for us to pause, because they don’t want to continue seeing solar and wind going onto prime agricultural land with no plan for reclamation and cleanup,” the Premier said on CBC’s Power & Politics this week.
But the RMA didn’t request a pause. In fact, the group “never thought it was even a possibility” before the government’s announcement, Mr. McLauchlin, RMA president, told The Globe and Mail on Thursday.
The RMA does support the pause, however, chiefly because of the focus on land use Mr. McLauchlin believes has been lost in the renewables discussion.
When it comes to increasing clarity around where renewable projects can be built, “it does make sense that you wouldn’t want to have projects moving forward to the point that they actually may not even be possible under new rules.”
Rural Alberta as a whole isn’t opposed to renewable-energy development, and many cash-strapped rural municipalities view the sector as a game-changing economic opportunity to help refill coffers that have been left lacking as oil and gas investment dries up.
Mr. McLauchlin said the outcome of the government-mandated review by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) will bring certainty to landowners, municipalities and industry.
“We have literally the best resource in the world. We have the most favourable grid for renewables. All those components are there, and what we need is to have a favourable land-use policy piece that will actually strengthen the industry,” he said.
“I don’t believe this will stop many projects, but it will eliminate some projects that aren’t really the best use of land.”
RMA members have passed various resolutions around renewable energy, including two in the past year, urging the government to consider reclamation sureties and develop policy to help protect agricultural land. A pause was not part of either, nor any other resolutions about renewables passed at past RMA conventions.
The Canadian Renewable Energy Association has acknowledged those are important issues that need to be discussed, but says there was no need to freeze the sector while that happens.
Ms. Smith has also attributed the call for a pause to provincial regulators – the AUC and the Alberta Electric System Operator, citing letters released by her government when it announced the pause, which she said proved regulators had made the request.
The letters – both dated July 21, two weeks before Utilities and Affordability Minister Nathan Neudorf announced the pause – show no such request.