Alberta wind farm cancelled, three other projects shelved as ‘Pristine Viewscapes’ ruling bites

TransAlta postponed three other Alberta wind farm projects until at least 2026 while it waits for the Province to finish restructuring its electricity market.

In late February, the Smith government declared a 35-kilometre buffer zones around “pristine viewscapes” that could not be marred by wind turbines. Getty Images photo.

This article was published by The Energy Mix on May 6, 2024.

TransAlta Corporation has cancelled a wind farm in southern Alberta and put three other projects worth an estimated C$500 million on hold, citing recent changes in the province’s grid regulations and uncertainty about further shifts on the near horizon.

The Calgary-based independent power producer, Alberta’s biggest electricity generator, announced it was abandoning the 300-megawatt Riplinger Wind Power Project in Cardston during an investor call last Friday, the Financial Post reports.

A key obstacle was the provincial government’s decision in late February to declare 35-kilometre buffer zones around “pristine viewscapes” that could not be marred by nearby wind turbines.

“We’re not going to invest in these kinds of projects unless we have a good level of comfort that our return expectations are going to be met, and it’s a little opaque right now,” CEO John Kousinioris told investors.

TransAlta also postponed three other projects until at least 2026 while it waits for Alberta to finish restructuring its electricity market. Those projects include the 100-MW Tempest wind project in Warner County, the 180-MW WaterCharger battery project west of Cochrane, and a 44-MW gas plant.

“They are not cancelled,” Kousinioris said. “The team is working to preserve them and make sure that as soon as we get the kind of clarity that we need… they are things that could be resurrected.”

The industry had already warned that Alberta’s recent decisions could derail new investment, the Post writes. “The announcement today is disappointing yet predictable,” said Canadian Renewable Energy Association CEO Vittoria Bellissimo. “Alberta does not offer certainty right now. Alberta offers risk.”

Kousinioris said he saw future economic growth, high incomes, a growing population, and industrial expansion all pointing to future renewables development, the Post adds. “We just need to get a bit of clarity, which I expect we will get in the coming year, two years,” the CEO said.

But federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said it’s a concern when capital shifts out of a province. “It’s unfortunate that you’re seeing some of these advanced projects go by the wayside because of some of the decisions that the government of Alberta made with respect to renewables,” he said.

Before the provincial government slapped an unexpected seven-month moratorium on renewable energy developments over a megawatt in size last summer, Alberta was leading the country in new projects. That initial decision affected 118 projects worth $33 billion, putting 24,000 jobs at risk. When the moratorium lifted at the end of February, the “pristine viewscapes” ruling and various other restrictions took effect, prompting mockery over the viewscapes the province was happily sacrificing and more serious worries that Alberta was turning itself into a “banana republic” incapable of attracting renewable energy investment. Around the same time, Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf admitted there is no “universal definition of pristine viewscape”.

Independent observers warned the new restrictions could cost the province 42 new projects totalling C$11 billion in investment and 6.3 gigawatts of new generating capacity. Just ahead of the announcement, the Business Renewables Centre-Canada published a map that showed $277 million in tax revenues that 33 Alberta rural municipalities stood to gain from new solar and wind projects that had been expected to come online by 2028, many of them in the southern parts of the province where the “pristine viewscapes” provision could have the greatest impact.

The map showed renewable energy projects accounting for 96.7 per cent of municipal tax revenue in Cardston County and 18.6 per cent in nearby Warner. It wasn’t clear as The Energy Mix went to virtual press how much of that income has been lost as a result of the TransAlta announcement.

As the TransAlta saga was unfolding, The Narwhal reported on internal emails showing that Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) CEO Mike Law was “not comfortable” with the decision to declare the provincial moratorium. He was instructed to “support the minister without reservation,” the emails show.

“The documents, released through a freedom of information request, disclose internal correspondence contradicting claims by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith that her government’s decision to pause renewable energy developments for seven months was partially in response to requests from the operator,” The Narwhal writes.

“The desire to halt the new project pipeline is a very troubling message for me, and is something we need to provide good messaging against [to the Government of Alberta] when we have the opportunity,” Law told colleagues in June 2023. He predicted that the moratorium, combined with an inquiry to be undertaken by the AESO, would throw the industry into a “tailspin”, delivering a “closed-for-business message,” that would be “reputationally very challenging” for Alberta.

Get the rest of The Narwhal’s investigative coverage here.

 

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