Province to take agriculture first approach to renewable energy

By Rob Vogt
The provincial government has announced changes to the rules governing the development of renewable energy, and its says it will take an agriculture-first approach.
On Feb. 28, the province announced the following changes:
Agricultural lands
• The Alberta Utilities Commission will take an “agriculture first” approach when evaluating the best use of agricultural lands proposed for renewables development.
• Alberta will no longer permit renewable generation developments on Class 1 and 2 lands unless the proponent can demonstrate the ability for both crops and/or livestock to coexist with the renewable generation project.
• Alberta’s government will establish the tools necessary to ensure Alberta’s native grasslands, irrigable and productive lands continue to be available for agricultural production.
Reclamation security
• Developers will be responsible for reclamation costs via bond or security. The reclamation costs will either be provided directly to the Alberta government or may be negotiated with landowners if sufficient evidence is provided to the Alberta Utilities Commission.
• Buffer zones of a minimum of 35 kilometres will be established around protected areas and other “pristine viewscapes” as designated by the province.
• New wind projects will no longer be permitted within those buffer zones.
• Other proposed developments located within the buffer zone may be subject to a visual impact assessment before approval.
Crown lands
• Meaningful engagement will be required before any policy changes for projects on Crown land and would not come into effect until late 2025.
• Any development of renewable development on Crown lands will be on a case-by-case basis.
Transmission regulation
• Changes to Alberta’s transmission regulation are expected in the coming months as the engagement process continues. Renewable projects should expect changes in how transmission costs are allocated.
• Municipalities will automatically be granted the right to participate in Alberta Utilities Commission hearings.
• Municipalities will be eligible to request cost recovery for participation.
• Municipalities will be allowed to review rules related to municipal submission requirements while clarifying consultation requirements.
A new release from the provincial government stated Alberta municipalities and landowners have been raising concerns about the rapid growth of renewable energy projects. Investors were also seeking clarification on rules for project development. To address these concerns, Alberta’s government introduced a short pause on final approvals for large renewable energy projects so the Alberta Utilities Commission could conduct an inquiry and issue a report. This pause on final approvals lifted on Feb. 29.
With the pause lifting as the “Generation Approvals Pause Regulation” expires, Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf sent a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission to provide policy guidance based on the first report it submitted to government. Once the minister has reviewed the Alberta Utilities Commission’s second report, a new letter will be sent to the commission with additional policy direction.