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Alta. energy generation plan needs rethink: expert

EDMONTON — The association representing Alberta’s rural municipalities wants the government to consider exemptions from the upcoming carbon levy.

Delegates to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties annual meeting voted in favour of asking government to exempt all municipalities from paying the levy as well as giving farming operations a break on the tax for natural gas and propane purchases.

Part of the concern is the un-known impacts of the cost of the provincial levy, said representatives to the AAMDC fall meeting held in Edmonton Nov. 15-17.

The carbon levy comes into effect Jan. 1 and will charge $20 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions in 2017, rising to $30 per tonne in 2018.

Specific rates depend on the type of fuel. The added charge will be 5.35 cents per litre on diesel and 4.49 cents per litre on gasoline. Propane will be 3.08 cents per litre. Natural gas is $1.01 per gigajoule.

The Alberta government website says the carbon levy applies throughout the fuel supply chain, including at the point of purchase, when fuel is imported, and at the point of removal of fuel from a refinery, terminal, plant or oil or gas battery.

The levy will also apply when the recipient flares or vents the fuel or engages in a prescribed activity.

The government expects private investment to support its goal of generating 30 percent of the province’s power from renewables such as wind and solar by 2030.

Bids are going out in 2017 to supply 400 megawatts of energy from renewable sources, and corporations and investor groups will require long-term contracts and subsidies, said Clive Schaupmeyer, a retired agronomist who is part of a coalition of scientists studying the Alberta proposal.

The plan to generate extra power from renewable sources may be too optimistic, he added.

A panoramic view is needed, said Cosmos Voutsinos, president of Technology Integration, who has worked on electricity projects generated by coal, gas, nuclear, hydro and renewables throughout the world.

He said every interest group has an opinion, but these need to come together to present a more complete picture of the government’s climate leadership plan.

“The climate leadership plan will not do one iota for the environment and in fact may do some damage.”

Other countries have made substantial investments in wind and solar energy but not all have been a success. Alberta should learn from their experiences.

“Why didn’t we learn from the mistakes of others and position ourselves accordingly?” Voutsinos said.

The government has focused on electricity generation, which is responsible for 17 percent of Alberta’s carbon dioxide emissions. Substituting coal fired power generation with wind or solar could leave the province vulnerable.

Wind can be unreliable and on average operates at about 30 percent capacity. As well, wind farms take up more space than a single power plant. Wind farms in Alberta are spread over a space about 350 kilometres long and 250 km wide.

“The same electricity could come from one gas plant covering a few acres at much less transmission costs,” said Schaupmeyer.

In addition, backup power must be available from other sources.

He speculated that the province’s 18 coal fired plants will likely be replaced with natural gas facilities, which are clean and reasonably priced.

“We take away the coal and it is going to have to be replaced with natural gas. Wind and solar will be a minor part of it,” he said.

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