Alberta to ban some renewable energy projects, greens say move is 'uncertainty bomb'

FILE PHOTO: Alberta's Premier Danielle Smith makes a keynote speech at the LNG 2023 energy conference in Vancouver

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Alberta, which produces most of Canada's crude oil, will ban renewable power projects on prime agricultural land and erect buffer zones to ensure wind turbines do not spoil scenic views, the provincial government said on Wednesday.

The province gave few details and said more announcements would follow, prompting one green group to complain that "an uncertainty bomb" had been dropped on a once booming sector.

Last year, Alberta temporarily halted approvals of major new projects amid concerns over renewables' reliability and land use, cooling investment in the industry and challenging the federal Liberal government's clean energy ambitions.

The western province has led the country in building renewable capacity and is on track to eliminate combustion of coal for power this year, six years ahead of plan.

Alberta's right-of-center government said the pause on approvals would be lifted on Thursday but it would from now on take an "agriculture first" approach with proposed projects.

"We need to ensure that we're not sacrificing our future agricultural yields, or tourism dollars, or breathtaking viewscapes to rush renewables development through," Premier Danielle Smith told a press conference in Edmonton.

Smith, complaining renewable projects are not as reliable as gas-fired plants, says Ottawa's drive to cut carbon emissions could wreck the provincial energy industry.

Alberta will bar renewable generation projects on land it deems has excellent or good irrigation capability and will set up buffer zones of a minimum of 35 km (22 miles) around protected areas or what the government considers pristine views.

New wind turbine projects will no longer be permitted within those buffer zones. More work needs to be done on the overall policy, which will not be finalised until end-2024.

"(This) has dropped an uncertainty bomb on renewable project investors and developers in Alberta ... The new path forward leaves even more unanswered questions for the industry," said Evan Pivnick of the Clean Energy Canada group.

Alberta generates most of its electricity from natural gas and produces more than 82% of the country's crude oil.

The government, citing concerns about the cost of cleaning up renewables projects once they have shut down, says developers will have to put up a bond or security.

In a note to clients, RBC Dominion Securities analyst Nelson Ng said the new rules could slow the pace of development.

George Chalal, one of just two federal Liberal legislators in Alberta, said Smith was "continuing her ideological crusade against renewables" that would kill jobs.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Ashitha Shivaprasad in Bengaluru;Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nia Williams and Cynthia Osterman)