Wind turbine no-go zones would cut off rural Albertan communities from key tax revenues

The reeve of Cardston County said the regulation will cause it ‘to lag behind for decades’ while Pincher Creek’s reeve is willing to take a revenue cut to keep turbines out of its viewscapes

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Alberta towns with a view of the Rockies stand to lose a major source of tax revenue as a result of the province’s new proposed ban on wind development in those areas.

But reactions have been mixed. Some municipal districts say they’re willing to lose out on revenue from renewable energy projects, while one region says the regulations will leave it “in the poor house forever.”

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The proposed provincial rules outline an approximately 35-kilometre buffer zone along Alberta’s Rocky Mountains where wind projects won’t be allowed — regulation the province says will protect so-called “pristine viewscapes.”

Some rural municipalities have become increasingly reliant on renewable energy projects as a source of tax revenue. Combined, currently planned solar and wind projects between now and 2028 would provide $277 million in annual tax revenues to municipalities, according to an analysis by Business Renewables Centre-Canada.

Fearing the worst is Cardston County in southwest Alberta, where those planned renewable energy projects would provide $7.7 million in tax revenues — nearly 97 per cent of its current operating revenue.

“We’re hoping to be somewhat self-reliant, rely on our own means to get it done,” said Cardston County reeve Randy Bullock. “Our biggest holdup now is we’re basically going to be in the poor house forever.”

The Alberta government’s no-go zone splits Cardston County, putting three divisions inside the no-go zone and the remaining four divisions with few restrictions on developing wind projects.

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Counties differ on renewables

Cardston County has been working to attract renewable energy investments after lagging behind other counties for years. Most recently, it took advantage of a rule allowing municipalities to create local incentives for businesses by creating a renewable energy tax incentive, which Bullock said the county is reviewing in light of the provincial regulations.

Bullock also worries the community will become divided by the issue. “We understand that the government makes up the rules, but now we have to deal with the aftermath and the consequences of a divided public,” he said.

Map showing restricted areas for renewable projects

But officials in the Municipal District of Pincher Creek are willing to let their books take a hit to keep wind projects out of their sight lines. Of the projects planned for the area over the next four years, Pincher Creek would rake in $1.4 million in municipal taxes, about 9.5 per cent of current operating revenues.

“We as a council, along with the people, have said no,” said Rick Lemire, councillor for Pincher Creek MD. “We’re turning down tax dollars, and a considerable amount of tax dollars, to say no.”

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Lemire said his community has been most bothered by transmission lines impeding the area’s views. Oil and gas investments in the area have been dormant in recent years, he added.

“We’ve just gotta be a little more prudent in our spending and run things a little tighter.”

Renewables had a broad majority of support in the Pincher Creek region as recently as 2017, Lemire said, with about 70 per cent of the surveyed population in favour of bringing in more developments. More recent surveys have shown support for renewable projects has plummeted to around 40 per cent, he said.

Rural Municipalities of Alberta has questions for minister

Reaction since the province outlined its buffer zones has been similarly mixed, said Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA).

“Just arbitrarily saying 35 kilometres is a no-go has some of my members upset, and I do have some members on the other side that are thankful for that,” McLauchlin said.

The RMA is hosting its annual convention this week, where McLauchlin expects members to draft a request to send to Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf.

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“A lot of our folks are saying, ‘Is there a way that we can push the envelope a bit and look for less of a draconian measure but look at something that has at least some flexibility built into it?’ ” McLauchlin said.

In a statement to Postmedia, Neudorf said Alberta municipalities will continue to benefit from existing renewables projects and will benefit from “future responsibly developed projects.” He added only new wind projects are affected by the buffer zone.

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‘Full picture’ needs to be considered: Cardston County reeve

With Alberta’s renewable energy regulations and sweeping revamp of its electricity market still being developed, it’s still unclear how future renewable projects in the province may be affected, said Jorden Dye, director for BRC-Canada.

“It is hard to tell if the projects at this moment are going to be fully blocked or face additional assessment criteria.”

Meanwhile, Bullock is asking his constituents to understand the ramifications. The county is home to the hamlet of Mountain View, which pulls some of its water from wells and needs a water treatment facility, he said.

“I can understand no one wants to look at (wind turbines), but they don’t understand the full picture . . . do they want to have potable water in their community, yes or no?” Bullock said.

“We’re going to have to say no because we can’t build it for them. It’s that black and white for us.”

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