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Varcoe: Smith says Alberta won't sterilize 'prime agriculture land,' as renewables pause ends this month

Press Coverage
February 14, 2024
Calgary Herald

Alberta remained a powerful magnet for investment in Canada’s renewable sector last year, home to a whopping 92 per cent of the country’s growth in installed wind and solar capacity.

It’s a figure the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, which tracks the data, calls “remarkable,” but it also arrives as a contentious pause has been placed on approving new wind and solar projects in Alberta — at least until the end of this month.

Rules and policies overseeing future developments in Alberta are coming, even as competition from other provinces ramps up for such investment.

“Alberta has been remarkable for multiple years in a row,” association CEO Vittoria Bellissimo said Tuesday, noting the province’s open electricity market has helped attract spending in recent years.

“The 92 per cent speaks to what was built in 2023, but it doesn’t really speak to the diversification that is on the horizon across the country. And Albertans should look at that as competition.”

According to the industry group, Alberta added two gigawatts (GW) of installed wind and solar capacity in 2023, while the entire country saw a total of 2.16 GW of new capacity.

And in 2022, the province was also home to three-quarters of all new wind and solar generation capacity.

Last year’s bonanza came even with Alberta’s mid-year pause on new project approval, which was put in place in August. Developments already under construction were not affected by the temporary moratorium.

The UCP government is now examining policies to oversee the industry’s rapid growth, including its use of farmland and the potential for mandatory reclamation security requirements. 

In an interview last week, Premier Danielle Smith reiterated the pause will end on Feb. 29, and addressed the issue of using farmland for renewable energy facilities.

“The industry should expect that as they’re building out and getting approvals for these installations, we are not going to be sterilizing prime agricultural land,” Smith said.

“They will have to be looking at either agrivoltaics, or they’ll have to be looking at marginal lands. And there really are some innovative designs that allow for the panels to be far enough apart so that you can run a combine through them or graze cattle . . . We just don’t want to be sterilizing agriculture land.”

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