Alberta explores ways to soothe landowner angst as wind and solar takes off
Landowners don't want to get stuck with clean-up bill when renewable energy facilities expire
With a wave of renewable energy development arriving in Alberta, the province is examining ways to strengthen protections for landowners that allow wind and solar development on their property.
The province has had renewable energy projects — such as wind turbines — since the 1990s, but landowner advocates have long complained that some of the rules are insufficient.
Among their worries, landowners want to make sure their property is properly reclaimed when wind and solar facilities have expired – and that they don't get stuck with the bill.
The oil and gas industry has had such rules for years.
"As hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment flow in Alberta's renewable energy industry, we know Albertans deserve strong reclamation policies and protections," said Matt Dykstra, a spokesman for Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips.
"This is something that the government of Alberta has been hearing about from both industry and landowners. It's something we're actively working on and we'll have more to say later this spring."
Alberta is readying itself for a renewable energy boom that'll soon see dozens of wind and solar projects added to the landscape. The province wants to add up to 5,000 MW of renewable energy through private sector investment of about $10 billion by 2030.
The opportunity has made Alberta one of the hottest markets for the renewable energy sector.
Indeed, around 200 members of the wind power industry gathered in Calgary this week for the spring forum of the Canada Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).
Evan Wilson, regional director of the Prairies for CanWEA, said he expects the provincial government to work on developing draft guidelines covering how a company has to reclaim the site of an old wind operation.
"The Alberta Utilities Commission, in the past several approvals they've given for projects, decommissioning has been part of the conditions with no real definition yet as to what decommissioning or reclamation is," Wilson said.
"I think it was left open ended by the AUC for Alberta Environment and Parks to have a guideline that comes out of that."
He said because landowners can refuse to let companies develop on their property, such relationships are a priority and developed as long-term partnerships.
"I think that they will be a good thing because they will set the standard by which everybody acts and everybody knows that there is protection there," Wilson said.
"But at the same time I think that you know there are a lot of protections for the landowners because they have this collaborative relationship already."
It's a mixed bag of rules across the country when it comes to site reclamation, even in more mature markets.
In Quebec, a company must provide authorities with proof of sufficient financing, either by means of a deposit in trust or by giving firm guarantees, that it is able to obtain the amount required to cover the full cost of dismantling the wind farm.
A company in Ontario has to have a decommissioning plan prior to the project approval but there is no requirement specifying what the plan looks like.
Alberta surface rights advocate Daryl Bennett said it would be good to have set guidelines for land reclamation to ensure all companies meet certain standards.
"Part of the problem is that big chunk of concrete left in the ground," Bennett said.
"How deep are they going to have to go to remove it? Most contracts right now say it's a metre. But if you do that you're going to have a big crop circle left in your in field on dry years."
But Bennett said guidelines wouldn't solve the problem of cleaning up abandoned sites.
He said there needs to be an "orphan" fund — similar to the one for oil and gas wells — that will pay to clean-up renewable energy sites if a company goes bankrupt, adding that farmers shouldn't be left with the bill.
With files from Tiphanie Roquette