Recently, the Alberta government announced a pause on all applications for renewable energy projects in the province.
“Alberta is going through a transition period—some soul searching,” is how Sean Parker, Partner at McLennan Ross, describes it, from his office in Edmonton. He explains that the pause is meant to give the Alberta Utilities Commission and by extension the government, time to take a more “strategic and holistic approach” to determining the considerations to be assessed when looking at renewable projects.
“Alberta has been a leader in championing the development of renewable power. And so what you've seen in the last number of years is a very significant number of projects being advanced both on the solar and wind side to be incorporated into Alberta's electricity market,” explains Evan Dixon, Calgary Partner at McLennan Ross. “And the pause has largely been directed to deal with some of the challenges that the government is now seeing in terms of the pace of the development, including uncertainties regarding the reclamation and land use issues associated with the development of these large-scale projects.”
Whether the pause helps these issues is currently unclear. But one thing the pause has done immediately and unambiguously is demonstrate the importance of expertise when working with the energy sector. After all, the rules of the game are complicated, and apparently, they can change quickly. “Our team adds value by knowing how the system works, and being well-versed in the regulatory system as it continues to develop to accommodate newer technologies,” says Dixon.
With lawyers in both Edmonton and Calgary, along with an active presence in the North, the Energy and Environmental Practice Group at McLennan Ross is one of the largest environmental and regulatory groups in the province. The deep bench is important because the practice is varied. “A lot of these clients are power producers and getting into that market. They are very sophisticated organizations, with a lot of internal resources, but when they need expertise getting a project over the goal line, then they'll come to us,” Parker says.
There are studies that need to be completed, there is engineering and reporting to be done, as well as work to bring together all relevant stakeholders, including indigenous rights holders. “It’s getting all the pieces together you need for a successful application. And also, while you're putting that together, being cognizant of what you're going to need if it does go to a hearing. The forward-looking perspective on requirements is important,” says Parker.
A continuing shift in the industry includes many legacy energy companies wanting to lower their emissions or transition to cleaner energy sources. “Some of the things that we've been looking at in terms of traditional oil and gas companies and how they're dealing with the energy transition include electrification of oilfield equipment, looking at ways to diversify the use of their products, looking at compliance on how to lower their emissions profile, but I think electrification is oftentimes seen as a very achievable way to reduce their GHG emissions. And that's something that I've assessed for a couple of different clients,” says Dixon. Of course, the other side of compliance is enforcement, which the team at McLennan Ross has experience in also, though minimizing the risk of being an enforcement target is the goal.
The pause made something else immediately recognizable: the government may have put the brakes on new renewable energy projects, but the pause won’t provide much of a break for the Energy and Environmental Practice Group at McLennan Ross.