By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Keith Hirsche, founder and president of RenuWell Energy Solutions, was the featured speaker at a Jan. 17 webinar and he spent the hour-long virtual session taking attendees through the objectives and outcomes of his energy project. RenuWell converts abandoned oil wells into solar farms. It cuts remediation and costs substantially and allows Alberta to increase its solar capacity without infringing upon productive farmland.
In his livestream presentation, Hirsche laid out facts and figures that bode well for the continuing success of his project. In terms of its impact, 401 participants have completed 940 projects. An equivalent emissions lifetime savings of 762,678 tons of CO2 were reported. Jobs in the energy efficiency and solar industries totalled 1,036. One-hundred seventy municipalities completed projects. There are 66 communities assessing climate risks and creating adaptation plans, and 75,764 solar modules generated 29.8 megawatts of solar energy capacity.
Some of the slides in Hirsche’s presentation showed economic losses in municipalities. A rapid increase in oil and gas liabilities resulted from 170,000 inactive well leases on more than 340,000 acres of Alberta land. There are delays in lease reclamation, and some sites were sold to smaller companies that lacked the adequate resources to undertake reclamation. From 2012 to 2022 the Orphan Well Association inventory increased from 74 to 9,558 sites. Meanwhile, the provincial government is compensating landowners for unpaid lease rentals, and municipalities can’t collect the taxes. However, the Business Renewable Center calculated that solar and wind projects generated more than $28 million in property taxes for Alberta municipalities in 2022. Seven municipalities received more than $1 million in tax revenue. That number increased in 2023.
In the M.D. of Taber, the status of oil and gas sites shows an imbalance of productivity. There are 3,427 active wells, 2,119 suspended wells, 3,421 abandoned wells, and 3,899 reclaimed wells. In 2023, 11 companies owed more than $1.3 million in outstanding oil and gas taxes to the M.D. Overall, Alberta municipalities are owed more than $268 million in outstanding taxes from oil and gas companies, some of which have gone bankrupt.
Hirsch explained how the delivery costs for electricity become a drain on consumers. He said large-scale utility generation projects often require expensive transmission upgrades. Those upgrade costs are passed along directly to customers and are the fastest growing component of Alberta’s electricity bills. The upgrades are passed along to consumers at cost plus 8 per cent profit. Since 1999, energy costs have fallen due to competition but delivery charges have tripled.