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Alberta to back new renewable energy capacity

Smaller-scale power generation programs being considered

(Photo courtesy Canada Beef Inc.)

Reuters — The Alberta government said Tuesday it will support the creation of 5,000 megawatts of additional renewable energy capacity by 2030 to help achieve goals laid out in its climate plan last year.

Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks, said Alberta now has a firm target of 30 per cent of electricity used in the province coming from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and solar.

Previously, Alberta said it would aim for up to 30 per cent renewables and industry analysts said the clarification would boost activity in the sector.

“The renewable energy target will stimulate billions in investment in the province to build the electricity system of the 21st century, bringing jobs to Alberta. This target sends a clear signal to investors, providing the certainty required for investment,” the Pembina Institute said.

Phillips estimated at least $10.5 billion will flow into the provincial economy as a result of the Renewable Electricity Program, creating at least 7,200 new jobs as projects are built.

Alberta, home to Canada’s vast oil sands and No. 1 exporter of crude to the U.S., has been seeking ways to diversify its economy to ease the pain of a two-year slump in global oil prices.

It is also Canada’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, mainly as a result of energy-intensive oil sands production, but also because of reliance on coal-fired power stations.

Last November, the province’s governing New Democrats pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 and replace it with a mixture of gas and renewable power.

Investors have been awaiting further details on how Alberta will implement its climate targets since the plan was first unveiled last year.

Paula McGarrigle, managing director of Solas Energy Consulting, said the fact the renewables target is based on the amount of energy used, rather than the province’s energy capacity, was positive but further details on the structure of energy project contracts would be crucial.

“I have already emailed a bunch of my clients and there are cheers happening, people are happy with this,” she said. “Even so, the devil is in the detail.”

Small-scale generation

The province will release more details of its renewables program in November. So far it has stipulated projects must be based in Alberta, be new or expanded and be at least five megawatts in size to be eligible for support.

The province said work is also underway to improve its rules around “smaller-scale” electricity generation, including micro-generation projects.

The province said it has set up an Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel to consult on recommendations for small-scale electricity generation programs and overall energy efficiency.

Those programs, the province said, will be offered through a new Energy Efficiency Alberta organization sometime early in 2017.

In Ontario, by comparison, most smaller-scale and farm-level projects eligible for its provincial feed-in tariff (FIT and microFIT) programs generate between 10 and 500 kilowatts of electricity, from sources such as wind, biomass, biogas, water power and solar panels.

Nova Scotia’s community feed-in tariff (COMFIT) program, set up in 2010, backed community-level biomass, wind, tidal and small-scale run-of-river hydroelectric projects, mostly in the two- to four-megawatt range.

However, the province began winding down the program last year, finding its small-scale projects were “beginning to put upward pressure on power rates.”

British Columbia in 2010 proposed to develop a FIT-style system, but backed away from the idea in 2012 “in light of efforts to minimize electricity rate increases.”

— Nia Williams is a Reuters correspondent covering the energy sector from Calgary. Includes files from Network staff.

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