By Nikki Jamieson
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter was on hand during the meeting of the Taber Solar Project Developers and local residents, having a few questions himself on the viability of the project.
During their regular Oct. 11 meeting, the Municipal District of Taber welcomed a delegation of concerned residents and representatives from BowMont Capital Advisory Ltd. and Canadian Solar Solutions Inc., who partnered together on behalf of CB Alberta Solar Development ULC (CBA), to discuss the proposed project five kilometres north of the town of Taber.
About 40 M.D. residents, the majority of which live around White Ash Road, showed up to the meeting to voice their collective disapproval over the Taber project’s location to the two representatives.
BowMont and CSS have proposed to build three solar power sites within the M.D. — by Hays, Vauxhall and Taber — and have held open houses for each project over the summer to share information and get feedback.
While the open houses for the Hays and Vauxhall projects did not lead to any initial concerns being raised to council — although the Vauxhall project would later generate concerns on the land being irrigated instead of being marginal land, like council was originally told — the Taber project has stirred up some controversy, as a group of residents living nearby the project have problems with its location.
The proposed Taber site is located five kilometres north of town, in what the developers considered to be an ideal spot, since it is just one and a half kilometres away from a substation. It is a 22-megawatt project that will stretch across 191 acres, with a with a 25 year-design life.
However, the Taber project is also located within one of the more densely populated areas of the M.D., with 25 people living within less then a kilometre of the site.
Compared to the other two proposed solar projects in the M.D. — which have few people living around them — the Taber solar site has seen opposition from local residents.
In response to their concerns, Ian Sanchez, managing director of BowMont, and Mark Feenstra, senior manager for project development with CSS, met with the delegation and council to discuss the project.
“I’ve been dying to ask you these questions, so I apologize, I want the rest of you to ask questions,” said Hunter.
Hunter asked if they had any projects in Saskatchewan. In September, SaskPower — the government-owned electricity provider in Saskatchewan — had announced that up to 12,000 homes in the province will be run on solar energy by 2021, with the government setting a target of 50 per cent of it’s power being run on renewable purposes by 2030.
SaskPower says about 20-megawatts of that 60-megawatt plan will come from vendors, with the remaining 40-megawatts coming from community projects and projects under the First Nations Authority — the latter deal of which is currently under negotiations.
While BowMont did not have any projects there, CSS were looking at some, but according to Feenstra, the process was “a little bit different.”
And from what they currently here, the Saskatchewan government would select the site for the solar project, then start the bidding process on who would build and run the project. In Alberta, the solar provider would prepare for a project before entering the bidding process, building the site once awarded a contract.
Hunter also wanted to know what would happen if the project was not viable, to which he was told that if the project was not viable, it would not be built. Electricity from the solar project would cost about 15 cents, a stark increase from the approximently 1.7 cents for coal-power electricity, according to Feenstra, acknowledging that power prices will go up, but the project won’t get built is it’s not economically viable, since they would require a government contract.
“I’ll be very clear; so the cost to create electricity from a solar panel is 15.4 cents,” said Hunter. “The make up is going to have to be from the tax payer., through a subsidy. Right now, we have a government who is interested in doing that. What happens when the government leaves, or is kicked out or is voted out? That program is not going to be viable no more, so who is going to be liable for that project?”
“We wouldn’t build a project without a contract, from government,” said Feenstra. “We’ll have a contract, but we won’t build. And that will be a 20-year contract.”
“I don’t know if you guys recognized, but the present government is suing ENMAX and Epcor, which have contracts already,” said Hunter. “So it is doable, to break those contracts.”
Hunter also brought up the Municipal Government Act review, known as Bill 21. On Oct. 31, he says that the bill would be debated in the legislator. He urged the attending residents attending to write to him if they had concerns, so they could be brought up during the debate, in regards to the power of a municipality over these things.
“You guys are dealing with this issue in terms of land values and that sort of thing. But I can tell you in terms of what we studied, the cost to the taxpayer by doing this type of project, is substantial,” said Hunter. “Ontario has seen skyrocketed electricity prices. If you haven’t seen it in the news, then you’re not watching the news, because it is everywhere. In fact, they’re shutting down a bunch of these projects they’re supposed to be doing.”
“This thing is not sustainable at this point, we’re not saying that it’s not ever going to be sustainable. But at this point, it’s not comparable in terms of price, and because of that, the taxpayer will pay severely.”
In November 2015, the Alberta government announced its Climate Leadership Plan, with the aim of having the province’s power transiting away from coal-power and 30 per cent being generated by renewable resources by 2030.
When it was announced, the Wildrose Opposition vehemently opposed this plan, releasing a press release that called it “a new tax on everything”, and quoting Wildrose Leader Brian Jean saying, “This new carbon tax will make almost every single Alberta family poorer, while accelerated plans to shut down coal plants will lead to higher power prices and further jobs losses.”
“Let’s be clear; this project, the only reason why it’s even possible is because the government is going to subsidize it. When the government subsidizes, that means the tax payers subsidize it,” said Hunter, after the meeting.”I’m paid by the taxpayer, to represent the taxpayer and make sure they’re careful with their money. This isn’t being careful.”
Hunter says Germany, a previously green energy country, is transitioning back to coal-power, and China is building more coal plants.
“I question your assumption that we have to get off coal,” said Hunter, when asked about what he would like to see from renewable energy as we need to get off coal. “China is building coal plants as fast as the can. We live in the same world, and yet we’re saying we can’t have clean energy, clean coal here, we’re going to sell the coal to China, and we can have it in China, that makes sense? We live in the same planet, we’re going to be polluting there but we don’t pollute here?”
A better solution, Hunter says, is to invest in a clean coal solutions, much like they have in Saskatchewan with coal-scrubbing technology, which he believes was invented by someone from Alberta, and sell it to China.
“In Saskatchewan, they’ve got clean coal scrubbers, they scrub the emissions that come out, clean it up nice, so that it’s even actually cleaner then a natural gas solution. So, this is fantastic, why are we shutting that sort of thing down? That’s state of the art technology, we need to make sure we champion that sort of thing,” said Hunter. “One thing you need to realize is that the technology for solar, for wind, isn’t there yet, in terms of being comparable. Let’s give it time to be able to get to that point. We have lots of coal right now, we have hundred of years of coal. So, if we have a system of renewable energy that is comparable, and that isn’t going to gorge the taxpayer, I’m all in favour. I’m all in favour of a clean environment.”