The two-year COVID-19 pandemic was hard on everyone around the world and while restrictions are over, people across the globe are looking to rebound as quickly as possible. In Alberta, the government is focusing on a few different projects and industries that they see as surefire ways to get things back rolling in a positive way.
One of the most reliable industries continues to be agriculture in Alberta, and the government sees plenty of ways to expand on that.
“Agriculture has always been that ‘Steady Eddie’ for Alberta and I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re going to ramp it up in a quick way to be able to see more value to Albertans,” stated Grant Hunter, MLA for Taber-Warner.
And while Hunter continues to advocate for agri-food projects in the corridor between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, he also sees a few other areas where Alberta can start to expand into. One of those is in renewables, whether that be wind, solar, or hydro. The loss of oil and gas tax revenues has been hindering southern Alberta municipalities for some time, and Hunter understands why they would start exploring ways to recoup some of those lost dollars.
“I can see why the M.D. and counties want these projects because they are offsetting the loss in oil and gas taxes that they used to have. Obviously, these guys are coming in and we don’t have to subsidize these guys so they are coming in and building these things — and they’re building quite a few of them. I can see why counties want to have them as they’re good for tax revenue and they are coming in and offering top dollar to the landowners,” he said.
The Municipal District of Taber has voiced several concerns over the past several months about an issue they see with some of those solar projects — largely around their desire to not place any of those projects on viable agricultural land. Hunter agrees with that sentiment and he wonders why there is even a discussion around taking operable ag land out of the rotation.
“One of the concerns I do have though is how that will affect our arable land. Down in this area, anywhere you can put a pivot, it will grow high yield, high-value speciality crops. I’ve heard these things being put up on irrigation land and I think that’s a mistake. We need to remember that, yeah you can put these things up, but it’s important to make sure we have good production land for food as well. We need to make sure we have that as a balance,” he explained. “At least with wind, you can still plant your crops on that land as well because you can get around the wind turbines. But with the solar, that land is done. I’d like to see putting solar on corners of pivots and I saw a business plan for one, and I think that’s an innovative approach because a lot of those corners are not that productive of land. It’s more like dry field or dry crops, so maybe there is a possibility for that.”
Another talking point locally has been around why the province doesn’t allow renewable projects to be placed on Crown land. Hunter voiced his opinion that those lands should be looked at as viable options moving forward. He says he had already started poking around to see if there’s an appetite to overturn that.
“I think the other thing we have to figure out is, the government has a policy that you can’t put these things on Crown land. So you can’t put them on provincial land and I think that’s a real mistake. Why is that more of a valuable piece of property than private irrigated land?” he asked. “I’m advocating for it and I know there is two sides to every story. I’ve talked with the minister about this and hopefully, the minister would be willing to take a second look at it and see if there is anything we can do. I’ll leave it with him and hopefully we see some movement on that.”
Another exciting project for Hunter is around hydro. He says Alberta should soon be stepping into that world and exploring how to benefit from that industry.
“In Alberta, there are quite a few exciting things that are happening. The hydro project — certainly you can go with things like Teslas and electric vehicles — but for lots of rural work that is done, it is impossible to not have a truck and do that work. They’re trying to work towards a hydrogen solution that you can run vehicles on hydrogen and that is a multi-trillion dollar industry across the world,” he said. “We are capturing quite a bit of that new hydrogen because we have so much natural gas here and you can produce hydrogen using blue and green hydrogen. Blue uses electrolysis with water and creating it through natural gas is called green hydrogen. We have the cheapest way of producing hydrogen right here.”