The provincial government will tell Alberta’s utilities regulator to suspend approvals for new renewable electricity projects like wind and solar farms, while they study gaps in the current development rules.
Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf said the six-month pause is needed to clarify how agricultural land can be used to build power plants, as well as the expectations for land reclamation over the long term.
The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), the agency responsible for making decisions about electricity-generation projects, has been instructed to hold an inquiry on land use and reclamation issues, and report back to the government early next year.
Neudorf told CBC News that the break will affect 15 projects currently under review by the AUC. But he said the province wants to get ahead of issues that have been raised by municipalities and landowners, and help companies understand the full scope of their responsibilities amid a wave of new renewable energy projects.
“We have a lot of sun, we have a lot of wind, and we know that we’re an attractive place to land for that,” Neudorf said.
“So let’s just make sure that the ground rules are clearly established and our governing bodies also have the policies in place.”
With accelerating renewable energy development across Alberta, many communities have questioned why there isn’t more oversight for decommissioning the infrastructure at the end of its lifespan, so local residents or municipalities don’t get left holding the bill.
In a letter to the minister dated July 21, AUC chair Carolyn Dahl Rees said the commission is processing “a historically high volume” of wind, solar and thermal power plant applications, and their current process doesn’t have the tools to deal with issues like development on high-value agricultural land.
Neudorf said he wants the pause to be seen as a sign of collaboration with local communities and the renewable-energy industry — not a message that Alberta doesn’t welcome solar and wind infrastructure.
“We hope it actually provides clarity and transparency that we want these projects,” he said.
The pause applies only to power plants over one megawatt, and the province says the process won’t affect installing renewable-energy products in local homes and communities.