The following article is reproduced from The Western Producer. Will Alberta become one of the first Canadian provinces to begin listening to the balance between human and property rights, and the so-called “green economy”? Wind Concerns agrees with the President of Rural Municipalities of Alberta that there needs to be an immediate moratorium, particularly on any more massive projects that disrupt prime agricultural land, residential areas, and sensitive wildlife ecological areas.
By Doug Ferguson of The Western Producer, April 6, 2023
Government pressured to place a moratorium on solar projects on certain types of farmland, particularly irrigated land…
The Alberta government plans to look at ways to balance renewable energy development with protecting farmland as rural residents grapple with a boom in industrial-sized solar and wind projects.
“There’s going to be a big consultation in this province regarding renewables, regarding agricultural land, regarding our electricity grid,” said Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Nate Horner.
“It’s complicated, it’s big, it’s going to involve at least five ministries. We know this conversation needs to be had, and there definitely will be a place at the table for (Rural Municipalities of Alberta) and for our municipalities to make sure their voice is heard.”
Horner spoke March 21 at the association’s spring convention in Edmonton. RMA president Paul McLauchlin said in an interview the provincial government needs to place a moratorium on solar projects on certain types of farmland.
It should especially halt projects on land with irrigation potential involving Class 1 or Class 2 soil, he said.
“And I think one of the things we’re really concerned about is that (the pace of development) is going so far, and it’s gone so far down the pipe, that they’re saying, ‘oh, it’s hard to pull back’.”
A moratorium would be drastic, said Evan Wilson, senior director of policy and government affairs for the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA).
“We think that you could probably continue to have productive conversations, have productive projects move forward, but like I say, we would be eager to participate in a conversation about renewable energy in Alberta.”
Horner told the convention the consultation won’t be finished before the provincial election, which is slated for May 29.
“But it is big, and it quickly becomes about property rights, too, as many in this room I’m sure are aware of that.”
Concerns by rural Albertans about solar and wind projects are colliding with the rights of private landowners, such as farmers, to use their property as they see fit, including leasing it to renewable energy companies.
McLauchlin said there has been an overemphasis on such rights by the provincial government and the Alberta Utilities Commission. Rural municipalities partly exist to ensure land is being used in a manner that’s compatible with zoning, but the AUC has been overruling such concerns, he said.
McLauchlin, who is also the reeve of Ponoka County, said his county won’t subdivide good agricultural land for residences or other purposes. However, he said AUC believes anybody has a right to create a power plant, and those rights supersede whether the land is agricultural status or if it’s an incompatible land use.
That’s incorrect, he said.
Horner said in an email March 24, the provincial consultation or engagement is still in its planning stages.
During a ministerial forum at the conference March 21, McLauchlin asked Horner about the issue. The Alberta government has mandated that 30 percent of electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2030, which could cause a further loss of agricultural land, said McLauchlin.
“And what measures are your ministry taking to balance the development of renewable energy and the protection of valuable agricultural lands, and how can rural municipalities work with this government to ensure the preservation of agricultural lands while achieving renewable energy targets?”
Horner said it was the number one question that gets asked of his office. The problem has been aggravated by a federal requirement committing Canada to achieve a net-zero emissions electrical grid by 2035, he said.
“They want no new natural gas generation to come on board by 2035 for electrical generation. It’s absolutely an impossible position they’re putting our province and the province of Saskatchewan in.”
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told the convention March 22 that Alberta came close to grid failure twice last winter. She said she had been told by electricity generators it was partly due to what she said was the province’s 5,000 megawatts of installed wind and solar power.
“And when one of the big Alberta clipper (weather systems) rests over us and we’ve got snow and ice covering solar panels, and the wind turbines aren’t working, 5,000 megawatts of installed was only generating 100 megawatts of power. So, when we look at a proposal for 20,000 megawatts of new solar and wind, my principal concern is grid stability, and we will not have grid stability if all of that ends up getting built out.”
Smith was concerned that electricity generation may not be why solar and wind projects are being built in Alberta. Much of their revenue seems to come from selling carbon credits to companies, she said.
A spokesperson for CanREA said Wilson was unavailable to respond March 24 to the premier’s comments. Smith said federal net-zero targets are a better fit for provinces such as Quebec or Manitoba that enjoy large hydroelectric resources.