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Tag: Nathan Neudorf

Above are wind turbines in the MD of Pincher Creek that fall within the 35-kilometre buffer zone established by new utilities regulations to protect pristine viewscapes. Photo by Mia Parker

TransAlta’s energy project cancellations: Victory for some, blow for others

Earlier this month Alberta’s biggest energy provider, TransAlta, announced the discontinuation of a few renewable energy projects, citing moratorium and regulations restraints. One of these cancellations was Riplinger, a proposed wind farm in Cardston County with a potential transmission line through the MD of Pincher Creek. While a collective of local stakeholders applaud the provincial government’s decision to introduce the moratorium and stricter regulations, others raise concerns about what the changes will mean for energy developers in Alberta.

“Alberta’s changing energy landscape requires long-term solutions,” said provincial Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf in an emailed statement to Shootin’ the Breeze. “Our government’s market restructuring and additional policy corrections are desperately needed to provide stability, reliability, and affordability for our electrical needs now and into the future.”

These changes include standardizing developer responsibility in reclamation, changing transmission regulation, prioritizing agriculture and, most notably, establishing a 35-kilometre buffer zone around what the Government of Alberta refers to as “pristine viewscapes” in its outline of the new rules. 

The designated zone includes Pincher Creek and much of the surrounding area.

“We are particularly happy about the 35-kilometre buffer zone,” says Stephan Blum, Chinook Area Land Users Association president. “I think that’s a great statement to keep this area as pristine as possible.”

Stephan and vice-president Pia Blum participated in the Alberta Utilities Commission hearings during the moratorium, providing documentation about environmental, technical and viewscape concerns.

“What we see here is a transitional technology,” says Stephan Blum. “It’s unreliable and it’s inefficient — it will not last. I would expect 20 years from now there will be no more wind power here.”

A draft document from the Alberta government outlines the protected viewscapes, primarily along the Rockies.
A draft document from the Alberta government outlines the protected viewscapes, primarily along the Rockies.

He points to Alberta’s grid blackouts as demystifying the technology, and showing that renewables like solar and wind are not efficient. The blackouts in January and April, which came during Alberta’s pause on renewable energy, were caused by natural gas-fired power plants going offline.

While Stephan Blum agrees with the phasing out of coal, he would like to see energy production supplemented with natural gas, while on a path to modular nuclear energy.

“Why not put these wind towers and all this somewhere where it doesn’t do harm, to nature, to environment, to animals,” says Pia Blum. She describes this area as unique, particularly in the viewscapes that CALUA wishes to see preserved.

Ad for Shadowbar Shepherds Training in Pincher Creek

Another concern for Pia Blum is transmission lines and their cost. To her it would make more sense to place wind farms nearer to where the energy is needed, like urban centres.

MD of Pincher Creek Reeve David Cox had heard similar concerns from MD residents. Viewscapes and agricultural land were priorities from people MD council heard from.

“It’s not new that people are concerned about having an impact on the viewscape and potential tourism,” he says. “The resistance to having windmills has been building over time.”

Though he’s heard concerns about wildlife and esthetic impact, Cox notes that wind turbines may be seen as a more acceptable form of renewable energy because they have less of an impact on agriculture since you can farm around them.

To Cox, the moratorium offered municipalities like the Pincher Creek area to have a greater say in energy development.

“I thought it was prudent to do that with all the concerns that were coming up,” he says.

 

Also read | Energy report gives recommendations, Pincher Creek council to pursue

 

Kevin Van Koughnett, a retired executive for TransAlta who has worked with many of the local wind farms in system planning and reliability engineering, describes the Pincher Creek area as the wind capital of Canada.

Though he has not been involved with TransAlta since 2012, Van Koughnett speaks to the positive impact of wind farms in the area, with everything from employment to contributions to sustainable — and cheap — energy.

According to a 2023 report from Clean Energy Canada, wind can produce energy at a lower cost than natural gas firing, before carbon pricing.

“They’ve driven the cost down,” says Van Koughnett. “Wind and solar are very, very economic.”

He says one aspect of renewable energy generation that keeps it so cheap is its immunity from fuel inflation, since wind and sunlight are free.

Van Koughnett describes the new regulations put forward as being a “sledgehammer putting in thumbtacks” in how heavy-handed it is.

Regarding agricultural preference, he questions why the government is not raising similar concerns about the Highway 3 twinning, in which the phase presently underway is doubling the width of a highway for 46 kilometres, surely impacting potential agricultural production.

Van Koughnett notes that existing wind turbines within the 35-kilometre buffer zone defined by the new regulations will not have an opportunity to be repowered if they go out of service, since that would require a new approval.

This means that if these regulations persist, the Pincher Creek area could lose a large portion of municipal tax revenue, for which renewables already make up more than a third.

While he recognizes that some don’t like the look of wind turbines, he points to how others find them elegant, and how he doesn’t mind them in the view from his house.

“I like the mountains. Am I offended by a wind turbine being in front of it? No.”

For wildlife, he speaks to extensive surveys on the environment and wildlife, such as birds and bats that he saw while working with TransAlta. He says that adaptations can be made based on these studies, such as changing the operating regime of wind turbines to start at a wind speed where bats are no longer likely to fly.

While it is true that wind turbines can kill birds, Van Koughnett notes that it is not uncommon for human-made structures like buildings and semis to hit birds, and wind farms are subject to extensive study to limit harm.

The uncertainty created by these regulations in the marketplace may mean investors losing confidence in Alberta’s energy market and looking to build elsewhere.

“If you don’t have confidence, a lot of things stand still,” says Van Koughnett.

Fewer jobs in rural communities means fewer according to Canadian census results in 2016 and 2021, and Van Koughnett has concerns that the limitations on this industry will mean fewer young professionals settling down in the area.

“When you’re building something brand new, whether it’s a wind farm or solar farm, there’s obviously a lot of jobs,” Van Koughnett says, and notes that TransAlta projects create employment in construction, maintenance and operations in the area.

“Every time wind is blowing, or every time solar is generated, you’re producing electricity. And what that means from an environmental point of view is simply that some form of fossil fuel generation is not operating and it’s not having emissions.”

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

Wind turbines reach full output with roughly 50 km/h winds, which the region typically surpasses. Wind turbine blades are designed to pivot to “spill” extra wind force, which is effective until 90 km/h speeds, where there is a concern of blades bending into the tower.

Though wind turbines cannot operate at speeds greater than 90 km/h, Van Koughnett notes that these wind speeds are rare. According to WeatherStats.ca, Pincher Creek has seen wind speeds of 90 km/h or more only four times since the start of 2024.

Throughout his career, Van Koughnett says, he has not seen a wind turbine agreement that did not include TransAlta’s reclamation responsibility. He notes that many parts of the wind turbine can be recycled, including the steel tower and the copper used for the generator. 

“I think it sends a very strong message to the government, not only in regard to Riplinger, but in regard to the other facilities,” he says.

TransAlta declined to comment to questions posed by Shootin’ the Breeze.

“If one of Alberta’s biggest energy providers can’t execute their renewable energy projects under this government, then why should any other providers have any confidence in their ability to do so,” said Alberta NDP energy and climate critic Nagwan Al-Guneid, in an emailed statement to Shootin’ the Breeze.

“The UCP government should be concerned about the unstable climate investment they have created in Alberta. They should be concerned about the loss of thousands of jobs and the millions lost in municipal revenue that would have bolstered the rural economy.”

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

The renewables sector makes up a large portion of municipal tax revenue in many rural communities, including 34.6 per cent of the MD of Pincher Creek’s tax revenue so far in 2024. 

For rural communities, this means revenue to fund critical infrastructure projects. Cardston County Reeve Randy Bullock told Global News that his council was looking to use revenue from the Riplinger project to build a water treatment plant.

Alberta’s NDP points to the need for grid diversity to have solid energy backups and to attract investment.

“We need everything from solar, wind, abated natural gas, geothermal and more,” said Al-Guneid.

Embracing the global energy transition is key, according to Markham Hislop, publisher of Energi Media and one of Canada’s leading energy journalists.

“The energy system of the last 100 years is being radically transformed in a very short period of time, and it’s happening at the global level,” Hislop says. “Alberta has very deliberately closed the door.”

Through his work interviewing energy experts and conducting extensive research into energy development, Hislop has been tracking trends that reveal a larger picture about the world’s energy future. To him it also reveals that Alberta is falling behind.

“These new technologies are challenging the dominant business model and the dominant narratives of oil and gas,” he says.

Ad for Sara Hawthorn, Pincher Creek and Crowsnest Pass realtor

Hislop points to the economic opportunities that can open up when energy can be produced as cheaply as the renewable sector can produce it, such as making hydrogen at an economical rate and aiding industrial processes such as steel-making.

“Oil and gas I can say unequivocally does not understand the competition posed by clean energy,” Hislop says, calling Alberta a “Blockbuster,” unaware of the threat that is posed by new competitors.

He explains that all the major clean energies are a few years past their inflection point, meaning they’ve become cost-competitive with old technologies and are beginning to push them out.

“The danger for Alberta is that when that change comes, Alberta is unprepared,” he says.

With the moratorium and new renewable regulations, Hislop’s biggest concern is with the Alberta government’s lack of strategy. 

“If you don’t do this, you’re going to be hurt economically in the very near future. Your products that you export are going to lose market share and lose market share until it really hurts.”

He notes that the United States and the European Union have both recently brought in embedded emissions-penalty programs through tariffs and tax adjustments, respectively.

“The goal is the same, it’s to penalize products that have lots of emissions, that have a high emissions intensity,” he says. “And Alberta has an incredibly high emissions intensity; the oil sands are some of the dirtiest oil on the planet.”

Hislop expects that around 2030, demand for oil and gas will be falling and Alberta will be behind the other energy players, production-wise and economically.

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta

James Van Leeuwen, a local sustainable-development consultant, sees a benefit in allowing sustainable-energy developers to invest in the area, particularly in employment and the local economy.

“Those jobs are real, and they’re long-term,” he says. “That industry’s not going anywhere. It’s a growth industry from what we can see.”

The long-term financial benefits of the industrial tax base are also significant, as they empower municipalities to make local investments for their communities.