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OPINION: Community-building revenues now at risk

Jorden Dye is director of the Business Renewables Centre-Canada. (Photo submitted)

By Jorden Dye

If you live in a southern Alberta municipality with a small population and a correspondingly modest residential tax base, you may be accustomed to having to wait for other levels of government to decide what projects your community gets to do and when.

Your community has dreams. But sometimes it takes a while to make them happen.

Often, it’s not a matter of grit or know-how. It’s a matter of dollars.

Now, a new partner has entered the scene to change the dynamics and give municipalities new powers and independence. A new partner that is already paying tax revenues, in rapidly increasing amounts, to many municipalities in southern Alberta.

If Hanna wants to build its Harvest Sky Agricultural Centre or develop its historic Railway Roundhouse as a modern community activity hub, the Special Areas Board could soon be flush with the kind of cash to make that happen. Or the municipality could decide to accelerate its irrigation project, a linchpin initiative which could impact the collective prosperity of the community.

Funds could flow to Paintearth County’s Castor splash park or the municipality could easily build Coronation School’s inclusive playground.

Where will this money come from? We’re not talking about a mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. We’re talking about tax revenues from renewable energy projects. Steady, reliable income that a community can build plans — and budgets — around for decades.

Those wind turbines and solar farms you pass on your way to town or enroute to visit family and friends, those might as well be ATMs cranking out cash — for the landowner, yes, but also for your community. And no, the sun doesn’t always have to be shining or the wind constantly blowing for that cash to accumulate.

We’ve looked at the projects planned for Alberta, and we can see new prosperity around the corner for many municipalities — in the order of $277 million in annual tax revenues by 2028. These planned projects would bring revenues to 33 municipalities. For eight municipalities, this money would cover at least 50 per cent of their total current operating revenues, in some cases much more. For another nine, it would cover between 20 to 49 per cent of their current operating revenue.

To be clear, these are not the projects already built or under construction. Those are already sure bets. We’re talking about the planned projects. And the reason why we’re talking about them is because we’re worried.

We’re worried that this newfound prosperity and independence that is just on the horizon for so many communities could be taken from them.

That’s because the provincial government’s new rules on renewable energy projects retain enough uncertainty that many developers still don’t know if they can proceed with their planned projects. Will those new rules make it impossible to build wind and solar projects in Alberta?

This could happen, literally, if planned projects fall on land that is facing new restrictions on the placement of projects.

Or it could happen financially, if the rule changes bring new, substantial, costs that aren’t present in other jurisdictions, either in Canada or internationally. The wind blows and the sun shines in a lot of other places. Wind and solar developers have choices, and they can take their dollars elsewhere.

We all agree that we want responsible development that takes care of landowners, the environment and the wider community. A few tweaks to address worries are not unreasonable. But it’s the scope of changes that will determine if future development takes place on the scale of gigawatts or megawatts — and if that economic boost on the horizon is reality or a mirage.

~Jorden Dye is director of the Business Renewables Centre-Canada