Alberta's new renewable energy regulations could impact seven solar projects

One developer said it will be moving ahead with its application amid ‘a period of considerable policy and regulatory uncertainty for the renewable sector’

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Seven solar projects could be affected by the Alberta government’s new “agriculture-first” renewable energy regulations, including two major developments carrying several hundred megawatts of electricity.

One solar developer says it’s awaiting direction from the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), but is moving forward with the project “amid a period of considerable policy and regulatory uncertainty.”

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As part of its proposed regulations for the renewables sector announced on Feb. 28, the province said it will no longer allow renewable development on Class 1 and 2 lands — though exceptions will be made if developers can show crops or livestock can exist alongside the project.

The AUC estimates seven applications are currently proposed on Class 1 and 2 lands, the commission said in an email to Postmedia. (Class 1 and 2 lands are designated prime agricultural land, meaning they’re optimal for growing high yields of crops.)

Among them are the 300-megawatt Dolcy Solar project in Provost, another 300 MW project by Eastervale Solar Inc., also in Provost, and a 112 MW solar project beside Edmonton International Airport.

The Logic first reported several solar projects could be affected by Alberta’s proposed regulations.

It’s unclear how the projects could be affected by the new regulations because project areas may have a mix of different classes of land, the AUC said, meaning some projects could be on a sliver of Class 2 land and others could be fully sitting on Class 2 land.

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Developer forging ahead despite ‘regulatory uncertainty’

Brookfield’s Sunrise Solar Project — a 75 MW, 500-acre development near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta — is among the projects that could be affected.

Evolugen, a subsidiary of Brookfield Renewable Partners, estimates the project will annually generate 180 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy — enough, it says, to power more than 25,000 homes.

The developer announced several changes to the project last December that would decrease the project’s agricultural footprint by 13 per cent and distance itself from Pincher Creek’s town boundary.

“With the government’s announcement last week, we’re awaiting further direction from the AUC on next steps on our project and any further information required,” Mike Peters, director of public affairs for Evolugen, wrote in a statement to Postmedia. The developer said it’s considering integrating agrivoltaics into its design by using sheep grazing.

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“We believe that Sunrise Solar is a high-quality project and are committed to advancing it amid a period of considerable policy and regulatory uncertainty for the renewable sector.”

Combined, the seven projects would bring 843 MW of renewable power generation plus 300 MW of battery storage. For comparison, the Travers Solar Project — Alberta’s largest and one of the biggest in North America — is capable of producing 465 MW of power.

Travers Solar Project
The Travers Solar Project, west of Lomond, is one of the biggest in North America. Mike Drew/Postmedia

When asked whether the province has metrics on how it expects the proposed regulations will affect renewables development in Alberta, Ashley Stevenson, press secretary to Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf, directed Postmedia to the minister’s comments at a Feb. 28 news conference.

Alberta plans to advance its policies and regulatory changes before the end of 2024, Neudorf wrote to the AUC on Feb. 28. In the meantime, the AUC has implemented temporary requirements for renewable project applications, which include agricultural effects and the potential for co-location activities, such as grazing or haying that can be integrated into projects.

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The “agriculture first” approach is included in Alberta’s proposed changes, which would also make developers responsible for reclamation costs through a bond or security.

Nathan Neudorf, Danielle Smith and Chantelle de Jonge
Premier Danielle Smith, Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf, and Chantelle de Jonge, MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore, announce the province’s renewable energy development strategy, during a press conference at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Wednesday, Feb. 28. David Bloom/Postmedia

There were 26 solar projects affected by the renewables pause, according to the AUC’s most recent data, along with one power plant and one wind power plant application. In total, 3,645 MW of renewable generation and 460 MW of storage are in the AUC’s approvals pipeline.

The following projects are the seven applications currently proposed to sit on Class 1 and 2 lands:

  • Airport City Solar: Planned for construction at Edmonton International Airport, the 112 MW project at a cost of $169 million is being managed by Alpin Sun, a large German solar developer with a handful of major projects in Texas.
  • Dolcy Solar: This 300 MW project slated to be built in Provost, Alta., comes with 100 MW in battery storage. It’s being managed by Calgary-based Westbridge Renewable Energy Corporation.
  • Eastervale Solar: The project managed by Eastervale Solar Inc. — a subsidiary of WestBridge — is projected to bring 300 MW of power and 200 MW of battery storage. It’s expected to be built near Provost, Alta. and comes with a $415-million price tag, according to the province.
  • Sunrise Solar: The 75 MW project by Evolugen, a subsidiary of Brookfield Renewable Partners, is proposed to occupy about 500 acres near Pincher Creek, Alta.
  • Peter Lougheed Solar: The project is owned by PACE Canada and proposed for construction in the Village of Lougheed, located between Camrose and Wainwright in Central Alberta. It would come with 30.8 MW of generation.
  • Ponoka Solar: Proposing 23.2 MW of capacity, Acestes Power ULC is seeking approval for the project in Ponoka, located just north of Red Deer.
  • Three Hills Solar: The relatively small solar project is applying for residence in Three Hills, Alta., where it would bring an additional 18 MW of capacity. Three Hills Power Corp. last September purchased the project from Abacus Power Ltd.

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