The County of Stettler Agriculture Services Board (ASB) heard a provincial government representative describe some important details producers might want to keep in mind if they’re thinking about leasing land for a renewable energy development.
The presentation was heard at the June 28 ASB meeting.
The ASB is comprised of members of county council and chaired by Coun. Dave Grover.
Board members heard a detailed presentation by Energy, Utility & Policy Specialist, Farmers and Property Rights Advocate Office (FAO) Agriculture and Irrigation representative Darcy Allen, who noted capturing all aspects of renewable energy developments in one discussion would be challenging.
He pointed out the FAO is neutral and doesn’t support or oppose renewable developments, but rather follows its mandate of empowering Albertans through the spreading of information, representing Alberta producers in matters of concern and acting as a facilitator when needed.
Allen began by noting the Government of Alberta in 2015 passed the Climate Leadership Plan which mandated the elimination of coal plants by 2030 and guaranteed 30 per cent renewable energy in the province by 2030.
Allen pointed out renewable energy includes well-known technology such as wind and solar, but could also include less-profile ones such as hydro and geothermal.
Allen stated Alberta has some of the best potential wind and solar sites in Canada, pointing to an Alberta map illustration a very large section of the province ideal for renewable energy that includes much of the ECA Review’s coverage area.
He noted a rule of thumb claims five to seven acres of land are needed to generate one megawatt (MW) of solar power while one acre is needed to generate the same wind power.
It was noted the cost of renewable energy technology has dropped drastically over the past 10 years, meaning the cost of building and operating renewable developments may be comparable to some fossil fuel operations and may explain why so many of these developments are appearing in rural Alberta.
“I think what’s the growing concern that we’re hearing from landowners is related really to the sheer size and scale of the developments that they’re either being presented with or that they’re seeing popping up in their community,” said Allen.
Allen used as an example a solar development in the County of Vulcan that covers 3,680 acres and includes 1.3 million solar panels for a total coverage area of 23 entire sections of land.
He also pointed out the apparently increasing size of wind turbines, some of which have hubs that climb 185 metres into the sky and may have blade lengths up to 85 metres.
He concedes he’s heard producers voice concerns about the aesthetics of renewable energy developments as people can see them from farther and farther away. He added some producers are also concerned about extended parts of the development including roads, buildings and storage.
Allen spent a considerable amount of time discussing the various provincial government agencies that are affected by renewable energy developments.
He also spent a lot of time pointing out the differences between renewable energy project approvals versus oil and gas industry approvals. He stated the Surface Rights Act doesn’t apply to renewable energy developments and a renewable energy development lease is a private transaction between the company and the property owner.
Allen pointed out there is no damages claim remedy for renewable energy leases, nor recovery of compensation, but at the same time, property owners can refuse renewable energy developments. However, he pointed out that same company could very well just go next door to the neighbour and sign a lease with them.
Allen also pointed out there are no standard renewable energy development lease agreements and the FAO encourages property owners get a legal opinion of such an agreement if they are considering signing one.
He stated there are many things to keep in mind in such agreements one being end-of-life considerations, for example: how will decommissioning, reclamation and remediation be handled?
During a question and answer session with board members, Allen answered queries about land aggregators, enforcement and emergency response plans, where it was noted it is possible a municipality may need special emergency equipment and training to handle certain renewable energy developments.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter