A proposal by Alberta’s opposition NDP aims to help the province’s farmers and ranchers turn a symbol of their past into an emblem of their future.
NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet said the provincial government needs to provide $15 million in capital grants to help producers retrofit buildings such as barns. She said the money will help pay for the conversion of such structures to net-zero energy, ensuring producers are able to afford the upcoming transition to a low-carbon economy.
“Barns and grain elevators and other agricultural buildings have been part of our landscape for generations,” said Sweet, who is the MLA for Edmonton-Manning. “They’re part of our identity as Albertans, and they’re part of our economy.”
Net-zero energy buildings partly involve the use of renewable energy such as solar power to create at least as much energy as is consumed from the traditional electrical grid. As a result, they consume less power, making them cheaper to operate, said an NDP statement.
The proposal was outlined at a recent NDP news conference at the former Stewart livery stable in Calgary. The barn dates back to 1909 when people still used horses for transportation and farming.
More than a century later, producers are faced with rising energy costs including a carbon tax as the federal government pressures Canadians to reduce emissions and transition away from fossil fuels.
As well, the NDP’s proposal would provide loan guarantees for Alberta producers, said a party statement.
“This will result in immediate utility bill reductions, a contribution to net-zero goals, and a strong medium return on investment.”
Proven ways to achieve this include solar photovoltaic systems, energy efficient ventilation fans and LED lighting, as well as heat recovery technology and in-floor heating, it said.
Switching to such technologies “makes great economic sense for farmers and for ranchers, but there is an upfront capital cost that may be a barrier … so we want to see this available to as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said during the news conference.
However, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen said the provincial government recently announced new programs that will help producers adopt innovative technology, as well as promote efficient grain-handling systems and improve irrigation efficiency.
“It’s nice to see the NDP finally recognizing the importance of Alberta’s farmers and ranchers,” he said in an email.
“What’s disappointing is that they continue to ignore the great work our producers already do through modern agricultural practices while continuing to feed families around the world with high-quality, safe food. Alberta’s government will continue to work with producers in the province and fight back against regulations like the federal government’s carbon tax, reckless fertilizer limits, and punitive new fuel standards.”
During the Alberta NDP’s recent convention, Notley gained approval for a plan to create 60,000 jobs through what a statement called a transformational renewable energy shift. Besides pledging to achieve net-zero emissions for the province’s economy by 2050, the plan includes reaching net zero for the electrical grid by 2035.
Producers are already looking at converting farm buildings to net-zero energy, said president Mikhail Ivanchikov of Dandelion Renewables, a company with branches in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
“Designing and upgrading Alberta agricultural facilities toward net zero not only helps the environment, but also helps to reduce dependency on the (current energy) system and puts control back into the farmers’ hands,” he said.
“As the Alberta electricity and transmission distribution charges continue to rise, it allows farmers to generate their own renewable energy, store that energy and implement savings to minimize that green costs and the exposure to volatile energy prices.”