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.
Pembina estimates in a standard formula that annual payments to the landowner (it is being leased from Viterra) and city taxes would total $4.5 million, enough to pick up 3 or 4 per cent of the city’s total annual tax income.
Similarly, a controversial solar project in Cypress County, the Aura Peace Butte, would pay lease payments to the owners of six-quarter sections near Black and White Trail and annual tax amounts totalling an estimated $4.6 million to Cypress County.
The county’s entire annual tax revenue is about $23 million.
The County of Forty Mile collected a total of $16.3 million in property tax in 2023, but a single new project, the six-section Aria Solar Facility, could pay up to $6.3 million per year to county coffers and landowners leasing the sites.
Southeast Alberta projects pause
(A list of renewable energy projects, with applicant, location and combined lease and tax revenue, as estimated by the Pembina Institute).
– Aria Solar, County of 40 Mile, $6.3 million;
– Aura Peace Butte Solar, Cypress County, $4.6 million;
– Bluearth Bindloss Solar, Sp. Areas, $2 million;
– Capital Power Whitla Solar expansion, County 40 Mile, $1.23 million;
– DP Energy Saamis Solar, Medicine Hat city, $4.5 million;
– EDF Bull Trail wind Phase 1, Cypress County, $3.6 million;
– Enerfin Winnifred Wind (modification), Cypress/40 Mile $720,000;
– Engie Buffalo Trial (Phase 1), Cypress County, $2.4 million;
– Greengate Luna (two phases), County of Newell, $18.6 million;
– Alderson Solar, Cypress County, $1.4 million;
– Proteus Hays Solar, MD Taber, $4.3 million;
– Pteragen Peace Butte Wind, Cypress County, $1.4 million;
– RES Forty Mile Wind, Forty Mile, $1.6 million;
– Solar Krafte Vauxhall, MD Taber, $840,000;
– Solar Kraft Ranier, Newell, $6.3 million;
– Atco Forty Mile Wind (modification), Forty Mile, $340,000;
– Transalta Red Rock Wind, Cypress, $1.2 million.