Wind of Change

As part of its Climate Leadership Plan, the Alberta government has set a goal of adding 5,000 megawatts of renewable electricity capacity in the province by 2030, and that’s generating investor interest in wind and solar energy projects from around the globe.

“We’re getting international enquiries because the signal is: here’s a government that is really interested in pursuing energy production in renewables and alternatives, and we want to know more about what’s going on,” says Bev Thornton, executive director of the Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance.

Alberta SouthWest is a collaboration between 16 rural communities working to support local business and attract new investment to an area in the southwest corner of the province that covers 16,705 square kilometres. Aligned with Alberta Economic Development and Trade, it connects potential investors to the people and information they need to succeed.

Commercial wind energy production began in this corner of the province more than 20 years ago. In fact, the first wind farm was built west of Pincher Creek in 1993 and was only recently decommissioned, having more than fulfilled its life expectancy. A new site is being built directly north of the original Cowley Ridge site.

“This region was built on coal mining and oil and gas,” says Thornton. “As those resource industries diminished, the area was able to reinvent itself with alternatives and renewables. The tax revenue that continues to come off the wind development has been a benefit.”

While the industry established itself using the remarkable winds of southwest Alberta, technology has created larger, more efficient turbines, enabling wind farm development to continue spreading eastward across the plains of southern Alberta.

Peter Lovering is the manager of the SouthGrow Regional Initiative, which comprises 24 communities in south central Alberta across 18,605 square kilometres. Lovering says that funds generated under Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan should provide investors with incentive to launch wind and solar projects in Alberta.

“Some facilities will likely be built using offsets from Alberta’s carbon levy. Because the province is encouraging the build of renewable electricity generation there are still lots of opportunities that will present themselves,” he says.

In December 2017, the province auctioned off 600MW of renewable electricity, 200MW more than originally planned. The successful bids set a record for the lowest renewable electricity pricing in Canada at 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Wind power will be the source behind all three of the winning projects, which are expected to total about $1 billion in private-sector investment and power up to 255,000 homes.

Some operators, like Renewable Energy Services Ltd., were investing ahead of the province’s auction. The Nova Scotia-based company is developing the McLaughlin Wind Farm outside of Pincher Creek. This wind farm will launch with a capacity of 60MW and will consist of 14, 4.2-MW turbine generators, a substation and an underground collector system.

The company chose to invest in southern Alberta because of the location it was able to secure. “It’s also the only open market in Canada where you can actually produce something as long as you’re prepared to do it at the prices you get,” says Larry LeBlanc, chief executive officer of Renewable Energy Services.

Alberta SouthWest and SouthGrow are hoping more companies follow Renewable Energy Services’ lead into the area and have setup a support system to help smooth out the process. The two regional economic organizations have partnered with Economic Development Lethbridge to form the Southern Alberta Alternative Energy Partnership (SAAEP), and have developed an extensive resource centre for investors in the alternative and renewable energy sector.

“The municipalities are knowledgeable about the wind energy industry but solar is new. They’re now having conversations about policies and land use issues related to solar energy production,” says Bob Dyrda, project lead with Alberta SouthWest. “We’ve included a solar toolkit on the site [] so municipalities can learn about best practices, permits, taxes and solar access.”

With a government committed to developing the renewable energy sector and the capacity being built by Alberta SouthWest, SouthGrow and other organizations, there could be a bright future for wind and solar energy production in the province.

“The big message is that Alberta is seriously looking at making alternatives and renewables an important part of our energy story,” says Thornton.