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Alberta cracks down on new renewable energy projects and EV drivers

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After the province announced it was lifting the moratorium on new renewable energy projects earlier this week, it brought in sweeping new changes to how any future projects could be built, including a 35 kilometre buffer zone.

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society released a map of the province that it feels would be in line with provincial restrictions on new renewable energy projects.

It finds that the buffer percentage for all of southern Alberta equates to nearly 76.5 percent of restricted areas, as to where projects could be built.

The 35 kilometre “buffer zone” will apply to new wind projects around protected areas and “pristine viewscapes,” designated by the province.

“That map is absolutely not accurate,” said Premier Danielle Smith on Friday.

“I think that map says a lot more about what Pembina thinks the sterilization zone should be versus us.”

Smith says the province plans to outline its own map as to where projects can be approved moving forward.

“Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, Waterton National Park, all you have to do is draw a line out about 35 kilometres from there to get an idea of what the true buffer zone is going to be,” she said.

“There may be other areas that are able to argue that they have similar, majestic and tourism attributes, but I would say that’s an overstatement and that’s certainly not the intention.”

A ban on new wind projects located within 35-kilometre "buffer zones" was instituted around protected areas and other “pristine viewscapes” designated by the province.

In 2022, 75 per cent of all new wind and solar projects in Canada were built in Alberta, with concerns from rural communities as to who would be on the hook for cleanup costs.

Thomas Timmins is a lawyer at law firm Gowling WLG that represents renewable energy projects.

He says many questions remain as to how this will impact the sector.

“What makes investors uncertain or makes them uncomfortable is uncertainty,” said Timmins.

“We're talking about pristine viewscapes and 35 kilometres. So what qualifies as pristine and what qualifies as viewscapes.”

He says with uncertainty, future investment growth could be limited.

“What makes investment dollars and when we're talking investment dollars, we're talking about Albertans’ dollars,” he said.

“This is life insurance companies, pension funds, this is banks. This is our money that gets plowed back into these into these projects.”

There are 26 renewable projects – 25 wind and one solar – awaiting approval province-wide following this moratorium in Alberta.

Alberta accounted for 92 per cent of Canada's new renewable energy generation capacity in 2023.

Electric vehicle tax

Come January 2025, all electric vehicle drivers will have to cough up $200 annually to help pay for road improvements.

Calgary Tesla driver Rick Thode says he was expecting it.

“I think overall it's going to be not a bad thing,” he said.

“They have to get the road tax from somewhere. I mean, without it, what are you going to do?”

Finance Minister Nate Horner explained that the aim of the collection, which will help facilitate about $8 million in revenue will go towards paving roads, and upgrading the provincial highway system.

“Prime Minister Trudeau said they're not even going to make gas powered vehicles after 2035 or something,” said Horner.

“So we better prepare for the future I guess, if this is all that's going to be there, to maintain these roads.”

Horner says the provincial fuel tax is currently used on gas powered vehicles to financially support the road networks.

He adds that the $200 figure is what he believes is the average an Albertan would spend on the fuel tax.

With files from The Canadian Press

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