The Renewable Pause is Over! What’s Next?

March 1, 2024
Christine Runge

Yesterday marked the end of the pause of Commission approvals of facilities applications for renewable generators. Starting today, the Commission can begin issuing decisions related to any applications that have progressed throughout the previous six months but were stalled at the final stage due to the Generation Approvals Pause Regulation.

Immediately following the announcement of the pause, the Commission issued interim information requirements for new facilities applications. On Wednesday, the Commission  announced that those requirements will continue to remain in effect and concurrently, announced a stakeholder consultation on AUC Rule 007, which is expected to consider which aspects of the interim requirements form part of the rule on a permanent basis as well as consider other aspects of the government’s new policies discussed in this article.

Over the past six months, the Commission has conducted an inquiry into the ongoing economic, orderly and efficient development of electricity generation in Alberta. The inquiry was divided into two modules. Submissions on Module B, including one by Power Advisory, related to reliability and customer affordability, were filed yesterday and the Commission owes the government a report on the outcomes by the end of March. Module A was completed last year, with the Commission providing a report to government at the end of January.

On February 28, the government announced its policy decisions in relation to Module A to provide guidance on the requirements of renewable generation projects before the moratorium on decisions from the Commission was lifted today. The resulting policy guidance is discussed below.

Agricultural Lands

In what they are calling an “agriculture first approach,” the government will prevent renewable generation development on Class 1 and 2 lands unless the proponent can demonstrate the ability for crops and/or livestock to coexist with the renewable generation project. In the press conference, Minister Nathan Neudorf specifically stated that “there will be no blanket bans on specific types of land” and suggested the only goal was to prevent renewable projects from “sterilizing” agricultural land.

First, it should be noted that the land suitability rating system is a national system and that Alberta actually does not have any Class 1 land. Accordingly, this provision only applies to Class 2 lands.

At a high level, there are limited Class 2 lands in the south-east corner of the province, which leaves lots of land open to consideration by solar developers. Further, wind generation projects may not be significantly impacted by this policy to the extent that they are able to organize their turbines in a manner such that crops and/or livestock could coexist with the project.

An early high-level glance suggests that more than 20% of proposed wind, wind+storage, solar, and solar+storage project capacity in stages one though four on the AESO’s February project list may be currently located on Class 2 lands. Further work will need to be done to determine to what extent this new policy impacts those projects.


The government will designate buffer zones of at least 35 km around protected areas and other pristine viewscapes. Wind projects will not be permitted within those buffer zones due to their vertical footprints and other proposed development may be subject to a visual impact assessment. As a part of the approval process, the Commission will be required to complete site visits for all proposed renewable projects to assess the potential viewscape impacts.

As of now, it is unclear how “protected areas and other pristine viewscapes” will be defined, but that definition is critical to the understanding of how this legislation will impact wind generation development. In the press conference, Premier Danielle Smith stated, “you cannot build wind turbines the size of the Calgary Tower in front of a UNESCO world heritage site, or on Nose Hill, or in your neighbours’ backyard.” If this is a suggestion that all parks fit the definition, then the result could be a map of protected areas as restricted as the one developed by CPAWSNAB showing 76.48% of the land in southern Alberta being swept up in the buffer zone.

Minister Neudorf has since commented that this map is inaccurate. In the press conference he stated, “there is no universal definition of pristine viewscapes, however, many use that term to refer to areas that are unobstructed natural landscapes.” He noted the government will continue to work with other ministries on a definition, and that the national park boundaries will be the starting point of the conversation.

For now, the government has not provided a clear understanding on how this viewscape policy will work in practice and which projects may be impacted.

Crown Land

The government has promised further consultation on this topic and plans to modify legislation during or after late-2025. It is suggested that those modifications will implement the necessary policy and legislative tools to enable development on crown lands on a case-by-case basis as assessed by the Commission.

Reclamation Security

Developers will be responsible for reclamation costs via bond or security. Minister Neudorf noted historical issues with privately held security in the event of an individual passing or a company dissolving and suggested a preference for security to be held with the government. He did, however, also note that the final decision has not yet been made. For now, the policy statement on the website notes that these costs will either be provided directly to the government or may be negotiated with landowners if sufficient evidence is provided to the Commission.

New reclamation security requirements will apply to all approvals issued by the Commission after the pause ends. However, when questioned, Minister Neudorf also noted that the government has instructed the Commission to review the contracts already in place between landowners and developers and may place requirements on some on a case-by-case basis if they are found to be lacking.  

The government has not yet sorted out the details of when and how reclamation security would need to be posted. Premier Smith noted environmental income trusts which are used in the nuclear, forestry, and mining industries and suggested a structure could require annual contributions to such a trust rather than an upfront security deposit. Both Premier Smith and Minister Neudorf stated that they plan to work with industry to sort out the details.

In expert evidence submitted to Module A, Power Advisory recommended the government establish minimum standards for security (for all generation, not only for renewable generation) and then leave the security obligations to be managed between the landowner and the project owner. Power Advisory recommended that the Commission require a corporate attestation from the project owner and the landholder stating that provisions have been included in the lease agreement that are at least as stringent as required by the legislation. These recommendations were designed to minimize regulatory burden and government oversight while still achieving a minimum standard for all generation projects in Alberta.

Similar to the comments of Premier Smith, Power Advisory did not recommend a company be required to post a full amount of reclamation security upfront, though the details of the two suggestions differed. Power Advisory recommended that security requirements should be net of salvage value and, as a result, security would not need to be posted for renewable projects until the later years of the project’s life due to the high salvage value of wind turbines and solar panels immediately after commissioning.


Municipalities will be automatically granted standing and cost recovery in facilities applications before the Commission.

Next Steps

While some clarity has been provided, these announcements are lacking in details which are vital to the understanding of how the new polices will impact projects. Further clarity is required regarding (1) what requirements wind generators would need to meet to demonstrate the ability for crops and/or livestock to coexist with the renewable generation project; (2) the definition of “protected areas and other pristine viewscapes;” and (3) reclamation security requirements.

Further, Module A of the inquiry was only one of five items that would feed into government decision making. A report from the MSA to government was provided in December, a report from the AESO to government was provided in January, the report on Module B is due from the Commission at the end of March, and the government conducted consultations on the Transmission Regulation last November.

The government has noted it plans to advise on changes to the Transmission Regulation “in the coming months.” In the press conference, Premier Smith noted that “renewable projects should expect changes in how transmission costs are allocated.”

We are also expecting a decision regarding if the electricity market will continue as an energy-only market, become a capacity market, include long-term contracts, or include a crown corporation that owns and operates gas generation assets.