Renewable sector on hold in Alberta

FORT MACLEOD, Alta. — Those involved in renewable energy programs in Alberta are awaiting signals from the new United Conservative Party government about future support and direction.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now on what programs might be rolled back, what incentives might be rolled back, so that creates not a great environment for investors,” said Binnu Jeyakumar, director with the Pembina Institute.

“There’s a lot of wait and see. What we saw in Ontario was pretty disastrous for investments” in renewable energy, she added.

Jeyakumar was among speakers at the May 15 Southern Alberta Energy Forum in Fort Macleod, Alta. She said municipal interest in renewable energy projects continues to grow, particularly as the costs of solar and wind energy infrastructure continue to shrink.

“I think investors are on watch for what happens with these programs. That being said, I do also want to emphasize these programs are not here to subsidize renewables. They’re here to create certainty. What they give you are long-term contracts, and they’re long-term contracts at competitive rates.”

The perception persists that renewable energy relies on subsidies if it is to be sustainable. Jeyakumar said it is true that it was more expensive than conventional energy sources a decade ago. Today, she says renewables are a cheaper option than natural gas and coal.

“There’s more and more efficiencies that are happening. China has figured out how to make panels cheaper and cheaper because there is a large demand for panels. Similarly, even in Alberta, if you have a lot of solar panels going up, you’re creating competition among solar providers so they need to be really competitive with their price. They have economies of scale too so the more projects they do, they can bring down their costs.”

Derek Leahy, director with Rural Routes to Climate Solutions, said there is lots of interest at the farm level in renewable options. Attendance at numerous workshops organized by Rural Routes has been high.

“Producers are a very curious breed. They’re always looking for ways to improve their operations. They’re always looking for ways to innovate and I think new technology like this harnesses the resources that they’ve been using from the beginning. It fits into it so perfectly,” said Leahy.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced that the province will cancel the former government’s carbon tax plan. Some of the proceeds from that levy, applied to transportation and heating fuels, had been channeled to renewable energy projects, raising questions about future funding availability.

Cancellation of the Alberta carbon tax means the province will be subject to one imposed by the federal government, as stated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Jeyakumar acknowledged concern about the effect of those tax changes.

“The carbon tax has funded a lot of programs and it’s the reason why we’re seeing a lot of the development in solar and energy efficiency. So that’s a valid concern,” she said.

“I think the question is how the government decides to proceed on this. It’s not legislated that all of these programs need to be paid by the carbon tax. So if the government sees this as a priority, they could continue investing in it but they would have to find (funding) sources in other places.”

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