By Collin Gallant
Alta Newspaper Group – Medicine Hat
Rural co-ops, electrification associations, small communities and other groups are being given the chance to buy in to medium-sized green utility projects in hopes of luring industry to their rural locales.
Provincial Environment Minister Shannon Phillips unveiled the $200-million program to provide contract price stability to renewable power generators.
Observers say that is crucial before proposed projects — including several in southern Alberta — are given the go-ahead.
The program, aimed at spurring construction of “community-sized” wind, solar, or biomass projects, is being held up as a way to bolster economic activity while supplying “stable revenue” to a variety of rural groups.
“It’s important that we can find ways to make communities resilient in the new economy,” Phillips said in an address to the Rural Municipalities Association conference in Edmonton.
For REA’s, the program will help “diversify and contribute to our long-term success,” said Dan Astner, president of the Alberta Federation of REAs.
“We look forward to engaging constructively with the province, to ensure the program details create meaningful opportunities for rural Albertans who own their own utilities.”
The program is aimed at facilities with a generating capacity between five and 25 megawatts.
For comparison, the Brooks Solar facility visible from the Trans-Canada Highway near that city has a capacity of 15 megawatts.
Projects will be judged on social, environmental or economic impact and partnerships with community groups, co-ops, ag societies, local governments or rural electrification associations.
The program, which will be finalized over the next several months, is similar to one the provincial electric system operator used to award three large-scale projects last fall.
Companies behind those windfarms, including one near Bow Island and another in Oyen, built their business cases, then bid their lowest required price into a supply auction.
The province chose the lowest prices, and guaranteed it through a 20-year contract with funds from the province’s decade-old large emitters climate fund.
When the market prices rise above the contract price, the producers back the difference back to the fund, but the stable price point is required in many cases for utility companies to secure financing.
The same hurdle is faced by small-to mid-sized proposals, said Phillips, who said a backlog of projects are waiting for contracts or the right market conditions before moving ahead.
As for demand, Fortis Alberta alone currently has 20 applications before the Alberta Utilities Commission to connect solar facilities in southern Alberta.
That includes eight proposed facilities in either Burdett, Empress or Taber.
One quarter of the fund will be reserved for projects in areas affected by the coal phase-out, including Special Areas, where coal plants are being converted to burn natural gas, but mine closures are expected.
The government’s Climate Reduction Plan calls for 30 per cent of power in Alberta to come from renewable sources by 2030.
This project would account for two per cent, said Phillips, with the rest coming from large projects, including several when a second and third round of supply contracts are awarded next month.