Education the focus of Bill 6 so far

7 Apr 2017
Lethbridge Herald
J.W. Schnarr
[email protected]

Early implementation of the NDP’s farm safety bill has been focused on education, says an investigator involved in the process.

Mike Rappel is an Occupational Health and Safety investigations manager who has been part of organizing the farm and ranch team responsible for inspecting farm, ranch and agricultural work sites in the province as related to expected changes to legislation stemming from Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

On Thursday, he walked through the main areas of focus regarding Bill 6 at the Southern Alberta Council for Public Affairs.

“From our standpoint, we didn’t start investigating until given the authority on Jan. 1, 2016,” said Rappel. “To date, unfortunately, we have been involved in a number of investigations.”

Bill 6 repeals the exemptions for farm and ranch workers that were found in a range of legislation. Generally speaking, Bill 6 affects four aspects of the employment relationship: general working conditions; the right to organize; worker safety; and WCB coverage for non-family workers by repealing earlier exemptions.

As a result of the controversy generated by Bill 6, the province amended it to allow owners, family members and neighbours to work on farms and ranches without being subject to all of the rules and restrictions as other workers.

Specifically, the parts of Bill 6 pertaining to OHS regulations and workers’ compensation were amended to exclude paid farm and ranch owners and their family members, as well as friends and neighbours who do not work for wages as defined by the Employment Standards Code.

Prior to the bill, OHS did not have jurisdiction on farming and ranching operations, meaning there would be no OHS investigation following a serious injury incide.

“Now, at least, we have the ability to go out and ask some questions and do the investigation to determine what happened, what was in place, what could be in place, and what are the preventive measures we can put in place to ensure that doesn’t happen again,” said Rappel.

“We’re looking at preventing something from happening again. We’re looking at the worker safety aspect to see what can be done to prevent this from happening again.”

Rappel said common incidents reported on include motor vehicle collisions, animal handling incidents, entanglements, slips, trips and falls.

He noted in spite of the controversy surrounding the bill, there have been no reported incidents with access to sites for OHS investigators.

“So far, all the sites we have been to, and the farmers we have dealt with, have all been positive,” Rappel said.

“We have our approach. We selected people who have ag backgrounds, who know the business, the farm, crop and animal cycles. Getting out to a site and being able to discuss the issues with the employer directly in their terms has been really good for the community that way.”


Alta. gov’t earmarks money for watersheds – Grants to total $12M

23 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald

The NDP government is working towards protecting Alberta’s watersheds with a series of multiyear grants totalling $12 million.

Officials say the announcement coincides with World Water Day, a date devoted to tackling the world’s water crisis.

The plan will see $3.2 million for each of the 11 watershed councils to address health and water management issues over the next three years.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says the funds also help to advance research, education, collaboration and planning to address matters of water quality, quantity and consumption.

The administrators of the province’s watershed organizations say the funding shows that the government cares about water in Alberta.

Mark Bennett, executive director of the Bow River Basin Council, says water is a resource that we come into contact with every day and it must be protected.

“The Alberta government is making a solid commitment to protect an essential Alberta resource. Together with the Alberta Water Council, each water planning and advisory council will leverage this investment into improvement and conservation that benefits Albertans now and into the future.”

The Alberta Water Council, a nonprofit organization made up of government, industry and nongovernmental representatives, is also receiving $750,000 a year for the next three years as part of the government announcement.


Budget gives $30M for Alta. orphan wells

23 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says $30 million the federal government is giving to the province for the oil and gas industry is good news.

She says her government will use the money to focus on reclaiming orphan oil wells and getting oilfield workers back to work.

Notley says they have been lobbying Ottawa for months for money to make sure orphan oil wells are safely closed and the land reclaimed.

She says the wells are a huge, longstanding liability for the province and the industry knows there needs to be a plan to deal with this issue.

Notley says details on how this will be done will come out in the next few days.

The Orphan Well Association said last month there were 1,590 orphan wells awaiting abandonment and cleanup in Alberta.


Phillips answers critics of Alta. energy plan

20 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald
J.W. Schnarr
[email protected]


The Wildrose wants Albertans to pay more for their energy, and the Progressive Conservative party wants the province to do nothing when it comes to improving energy efficiency, says Alberta’s environment minister.

Speaking at an event for the announcement of a new 15-kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system and lighting upgrade for the Lethbridge Farm Stewardship Centre on Friday, Shannon Phillips responded to criticism by the opposition regarding the selection of Ontario-based Ecofitt to install energy efficiency upgrades in Alberta homes as part of the Residential No-Charge Energy Savings Program.

“The Wildrose would like to slam the door on any company that would like to do business in Alberta,” Phillips said. “Clearly, they are not welcoming new jobs and investment.”

She said the company selected was chosen out of the competitive tender process and were the lowest-cost bidder.

“Clearly, the WIldrose would like us to pay more for that, but that’s not an approach that our government is going to take.”

She said the company is in the process of hiring 70 people and has leased 10,000 square feet of warehouse space in Calgary.

“It’s a place where the economy can really use a shot in the arm,” she said. “The Wildrose would like to take us to a time when we are not saving money on their electricity bills.” On March 6, the Wildrose Party issued a statement criticizing the program and the decision, calling it a “corporate welfare handout” which has allowed Ecofitt to expand its operations with government money.

“The NDP government is taking billions of dollars from Albertans to spend on pet projects for out-of-province companies and it’s Albertans who are losing out,” Wildrose shadow electricity and renewables minister Don MacIntyre stated in the Wildrose release.

“Albertans would rather have their money stay in their pockets instead of the government taking their money so they offer them ‘free’ installation of power bars and nightlights.”

But Phillips said decisions by previous governments has made hiring out-of-province sometimes necessary.

“The fact of the matter is that Alberta has never had an efficiency strategy,” she said. “So many of these companies are going to be coming from elsewhere, where there is already expertise on energy efficiency.

“Because the previous government did nothing on energy efficiency, we became the last place in North America without these kinds of programs. It will take Alberta a little bit of time to catch up, but, at the end of the day, these kinds of procurement has to be competitive. The people of Alberta must get the best deal possible.

“The Wildrose would like us to pay more, and the Conservatives would prefer we do nothing at all.”


PC leader still faces hurdles

20 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Dave Mabell LETHBRIDGE HERALD [email protected]


Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney dominated the vote in his bid to take over the provincial Tories on Saturday.

But Lethbridge political scientist Faron Ellis says what’s expected to follow — steps to merge the longserving Progressive Conservatives with further-right Wildrose — may prove much more challenging.

And a recent province-wide poll shows Wildrose leader Brian Jean remains Albertans’ first choice as a “unite the right” leader with 26 per cent support versus 17 per cent for Kenney. About 28 per cent said they wanted “someone else,” the Mainstreet Research poll reported, while 29 per cent were undecided.

PC party delegates from Lethbridge and across the province selected Kenney as their next leader Saturday in Calgary. His opponents — Calgary lawyer and businessman Byron Nelson and Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Richard Starke, a veterinarian — were easily outdistanced in the vote.

Ellis, a political science instructor at Lethbridge College, says Kenney will need a strong mandate to proceed with his plans to dismantle the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta’s ruling party for more than four decades.

His next step was to meet with the PC party’s executive Sunday. Some members are opposed to any merger, Ellis says.

“They’ll want to preserve the old party,” but they’ll soon be replaced.

“There could be a number of them,” he suggests. Some “will likely resign of their own accord.”

Then, Ellis predicts, Kenney will begin making overtures to Jean and his Wildrose colleagues.

“He wants to negotiate terms of the merger.”

There again, Ellis says some members of the Wildrose executive could voice their opposition. They may feel their party is strong enough to defeat the governing New Democrats in 2019 without merging with their weaker rivals. The debate could be heated.

“But as the squabbling goes on, whichever party seems the most obstinate will be the loser in this confrontation.”

Voters aren’t interested in the political battles of the past, Ellis explains.

“They don’t care about the grudges of 20 years ago.” Still, the road to political matrimonial bliss could be bumpy. Ellis says Elections Alberta, a non-partisan public agency, has rules covering the dissolution of political parties, and what happens to their money. Either party could challenge those rules in court.

Once lawyers get involved, things could get complicated. Months could slip by.

Kenney, a former immigration minister in Stephen Harper’s government, has to reach some kind of agreement with the Wildrose leadership between now and this summer, Ellis says. The executive’s recommendation would have to be approved by the party’s grassroots members.

“Realistically, the parties would probably have to vote sometime next fall.”

The PC’s members would also have to be asked to vote for their party’s demise.

Then, if all goes Kenney’s way, the new party would have to create a new organization, name its executive and file papers for legal recognition.

“They’d have a year to get the legal entity together.”

That would allow the new party to start nominating candidates for the 2019 election, Ellis says.

“There’s no time to take a break on this,” he maintains.

While it’s a long process, Ellis predicts a new “unite the right” party will be ready to take on the New Democrats before the next election.

“This thing should be unstoppable,” he believes. “There is so much momentum.”

Follow @DMabellHerald on Twitter


Kenney pushes unity concept

20 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Dean Bennett

Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney says the wheels are in motion on his unite-the-right plan, with the goal of a new party and an elected leader in place a year from now.

Newly-elected leader of the Alberta PC party Jason Kenney answers questions at a news conference in a Calgary hotel Sunday.

“This is not written in stone (but) if there’s any way that we can accelerate that timeline, I’m all ears,” Kenney told reporters Sunday after he met with the Progressive Conservative board of directors.

“I want us to go as quickly as we can … but not jeopardize the unity project by speeding this up unnecessarily.”

On Saturday he won 75 per cent of the vote in a delegated convention to become the new party leader on a platform to dissolve the PCs and merge with the fellow right-centre Wildrose party.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean has already said he is in favour of joining forces if his members approve. Kenney also says any unity move must be approved in a referendum, although he declined Sunday to say what percentage he believes would represent a vote to merge.

The two leaders will meet today in Edmonton.

Kenney says the plan begins with appointing a negotiating team to get a framework deal in place for members of both parties to vote on.

Kenney also says he doesn’t anticipate running for a legislature seat in the near future but will focus on working on a merger plan.

He said while formal talks progress, informal unity can begin right away.

Kenney said he is exploring having the Wildrose and PC caucuses in the legislature work together, and is urging constituency boards of both parties to get to know each other. Party president Katherine O’Neill called the closed-door meeting positive with the board rallying behind Kenney.

“You can tell around the table today that people want to work with our leader,” said O’Neill.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions still, but people want to be at that table helping move us to next steps.”

Kenney, however, told reporters that the party’s executive director, Troy Wason, has resigned.

Under Alberta rules, parties cannot simply vote to merge their organizations and bank accounts. Instead, they must surrender their assets.

The next election is scheduled for the spring of 2019.

Kenney’s win has opened divisions in the PCs. Critics say under Kenney, the party will tack right on social issues and rights of minorities similar to the Wildrose

The NDP, Liberals and Alberta Party all took to social media within hours of Kenney’s win to urge progressive PC supporters to join up.

Kenney also walked back Sunday a promise he made in his victory speech to repeal all legislative and regulatory changes made under Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP, starting with the multibillion-dollar carbon tax.

NDP members and supporters pointed out that repealing everything would mean cutting the minimum wage by a third, raising the small business tax back to three per cent from two, and allowing union and corporate donations to political parties.

Kenney said policy is still to be hashed out by party members, but said he would undo only the “most damaging aspects” of those NDP policies as they relate to the economy.

For example, he said, he wouldn’t repeal the ban on corporate and union political donations.


Jason Kenney new PC leader – Conservative wants to unite the right

19 Mar 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Dean Bennett

Jason Kenney is the new leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives. Kenney, 48, captured 1,113 of 1,476 votes cast in the party’s first delegated convention since 1985.

Richard Starke, a sitting PC legislature member, was second with 323 votes. Longtime party member Byron Nelson was a distant third, with 40 votes.

“Today, it’s springtime in Alberta,” Kenney proclaimed after the results were revealed.

“This result sends a message to our fellow Albertans who are struggling, to those 200,000 Albertans who are looking for work, we are going to ensure there is a government on your side.”

Kenney will now begin the next phase of his unite-the-right campaign by seeking a deal with the Wildrose party to join forces under a new conservative banner.

Under Alberta rules, political parties cannot merge. Rather, they must fold up shop and surrender their assets before seeking to create a new party.

Wildrose party Leader Brian Jean has said he’s open to meeting with the new PC leader, but has stressed that any new conservative party will be created under a Wildrose legal framework, with the approval of Wildrose members.

Jean congratulated Kenney in a statement Saturday evening.

“Wildrose has its dancing shoes on when it comes to creating a single, principled, consolidated, conservative movement,” he said. “I hope to meet with Jason on Monday and share with him more about the direction I have heard from our members.”

Kenney has stressed unity is necessary to avoid the vote splitting he says led to the majority win by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015. Notley’s win brought to an end four decades of PC rule in the province. Kenney attacked the New Democrats in his speech after his win.

“Today is the beginning of the end of this disastrous socialist government,” he said as supporters roared their approval. “You have decided, we have decided, to ensure the defeat of this tax-hiking, job-killing, debt-loving, meanspirited, incompetent NDP government.

“We Albertans are going to unite to take our province back.”

Starke and Nelson ran on promises to follow the wishes of party members who voted just a year ago to not merge with the Wildrose, but instead rebuild the PCs.

Kenney’s critics fear he will abandon the party’s centrist approach on social issues to embrace the social conservatism of the Wildrose.

Delegates booed Starke during his speech earlier Saturday when he warned that a merger with the Wildrose could tar the PCs with the label of intolerance toward women and minorities.

The NDP immediately reached out to progressive voters on Twitter after Kenney’s win.

“Progressives looking for a modern and moderate party? Welcome,” the party said. “Join us.”

For Kenney, unity is a road map with no road. There is no provision in the PC constitution to dissolve itself and the leader is just one vote on the party’s board of directors.


Save planet by keeping coal-fired power plants

26 Feb 2017
Lethbridge Herald


Re: “Green incentive program ready by March.”

My goodness, Shannon! How nice of you to help us save month. You plan to spend $648 million over the next five years. That’s over $171 million a year. Money you don’t got. How’s that for saving us money? All that borrowed money wasted to save the planet.

Now, Shannon, and your boss Notley, if you really want to save the planet, don’t shut down our coal-fired plants. Why not grant some of that money to real scientists and engineers to find even better ways to reduce coal-fired emissions. The technology is already proven because those plants hardly produce harmful emissions.

Not every country is blessed with oil and natural gas, so they turn to coal, which is cheap and readily available in most countrys. If not, they will import coal.

Coal is still king. With hundreds of new coal-fired plants being built right now all across the planet, that would create a lot of emissions. Alberta to the rescue, with our new-found scrubbing technology, which we can export to those countries using coal.

We may even make a few bucks, and we would be the darlings of the planet.

George Van Bostelen



Alberta carbon tax a divisive issue

25 Feb 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Dave Mabell

If you vote NDP, you likely support Alberta’s new carbon levy. If not, you’re probably among more than 64 per cent of Lethbridge citizens who say they’re opposed to the carbon tax and rebate program launched by the government last month.

A new study by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College shows more than 80 per cent of city residents who would vote for the New Democrats favour the climate change initiative, along with 53 per cent who’d vote Liberal provincially.

But just 10 per cent of the city’s Wildrose supporters agree with the program, and 18 per cent of Progressive Conservatives.

“It’s a highly ideologically charged issue, and the numbers show that,” says political scientist Faron Ellis, who supervised the research.

While more than 35 per cent of Lethbridge residents polled said they agreed with the NDP government’s program, more than 64 per cent were against it.

Opposition was highest among seniors, people without post-secondary education and households with an income between $40,000 and $100,000.

By now, Ellis points out, many lowerincome Albertans will have received carbon tax rebate cheques — while all drivers are paying an extra 4.5 cents per litre for their gasoline.

But with gasoline selling for less than $1 a litre once again, he says, who’s going to notice?

“If you don’t notice the tax, that defeats the purpose.”

Ellis points to drastic price hikes during the 1970s energy crisis as an example of the real shock that’s required to change consumers’ habits — to buy smaller cars and reduce needless trips, for example.

While it’s stirred voters’ opposition, Ellis predicts, the new tax is not going to change consumer behaviour. And a year after the tax was announced, opposition remains strong.

When the research lab asked for Lethbridge residents’ views a year ago, it found 67.2 per cent of Lethbridge residents didn’t agree with the plan.

A similar poll taken by researchers at Think HQ in Calgary reported 66.3 per cent of those they polled were opposed.

Since then, Ellis says, the government has spelled out plans to support energy-saving innovation and technology, while offsetting its impact on lower-income families.

But the survey shows 64.3 per cent of Lethbridge residents still reject the initiative.

And few of them hesitated when contacted by students conducting the CSRL survey, Ellis says.

The students were given fact sheets in anticipation that some people would ask for more information.

“People didn’t believe they needed more information.”

Follow @DMabellHerald on Twitter


Line upgrades hiking electricity costs

February 24, 2017.

Albertans can’t expect relief on their bills soon

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

[email protected]

Albertans can expect a few more years of rising electricity costs during the provincial phase-out of coal-fired electricity in favour of renewables and natural gas.

But those increases will be coming from infrastructure projects greenlit by the previous government, and not the cost of electricity itself.

David Gray, President of Gray Economics, spoke Thursday at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs on the future of the Alberta electricity market with regards to pricing as the province moves forward with replacing coal-fired electricity generation with renewables and gas.

He said the question most people want to know is if the province will be like Ontario.

“Is it going to be a disaster?” He asked. “My answer is no. It probably won’t be.”

The biggest challenge in Alberta with regards to electricity is the cost of absorbing new transmission lines which were commissioned by the PCs that are now entering service.

“They are a huge multi-billion dollar expenditure that we are having to pay for at the same time demand has dropped – or at least, is not growing the way it did – and when you put those two things together, it actually adds up to a substantial increase to people’s wire charges.

“The wire charges are sometimes actually higher than their energy charges. That’s because our energy charges at the moment are historically low – lower than is really sustainable.”

Gray called the decision to green light massive transmission line upgrades a mistake by the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta.

“They gave carte blanche to $15 billion worth of new transmission lines, where as previously we had $1 billion worth. That’s the biggest thing hitting people’s bills at the moment.”

Albertans can expect continued fallout from that decision for several more years.

Gray said while the opportunities for energy efficiency are getting better all the time, the province really needs to find a use for these line upgrades.

“My suggestion is that we look at a partnership with B.C. and perhaps the federal government to create a much larger interconnection between B.C. and Alberta, and allowing us to produce a lot more wind power than we could just on our own with a goal of being a green energy superpower and selling to California and the western U.S. as they electrify their vehicle fleet.”

He said another energy cost many overlook are franchise fees set by municipal governments. He said it is those local municipalities setting the franchise fee rates who are partly responsible for driving up energy costs.

“Having said that, those fees have been relatively stable and people haven’t been jacking them up,” he said. “But some of them are still quite high.”

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter


AER shuts down all Lexin Resources operations

Alberta Energy Regulator has no confidence in Calgary oil and gas producer can operate safety

February 16, 2017
The Canadian Press
by Dan Healing

CALGARY — The Alberta Energy Regulator is taking the unusual step of shutting down all Lexin Resources operations, accusing the Calgary-based oil and gas producer of ignoring orders and regulations for months.

Lexin was ordered to shut down its estimated 1,660 sites, including 1,380 wells and 201 pipelines across the province.

“The AER has very little confidence in Lexin’s ability to conduct their operations safely and we’re taking measures to prevent any increase in public safety, environmental or financial risk,” said Mark Taylor, senior vice-president of the regulator’s closure and liability branch.

Lexin officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Taylor said AER field inspectors are paying special attention to 16 sour gas wells Lexin was operating just south of Calgary because of their proximity to the city. He said there is no present danger to the public.

Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide, a poisonous, corrosive and flammable colourless gas that smells of rotten eggs.

Taylor said the AER doesn’t know how much oil and gas Lexin is producing because the company’s last reliable reports were filed nine months ago.

According to the regulator, Lexin owes more than $1 million in levies to the Orphan Well Association, which reclaims wells left by owners who can’t or won’t clean up depleted sites. The AER said the company also owes more than $70 million in security for its reclamation obligations.

The regulator said it has asked other operators with working interests in Lexin’s licensed operations to secure and shut down those sites. The Orphan Well Association has been asked to shut down the sites where Lexin has no partner.

Association chairman Brad Herald said Alberta’s orphan well total will jump from the current tally of 1,590 awaiting abandonment and cleanup. But it should be a temporary rise of six months or so because productive wells will either be returned to Lexin or sold by the AER to other operators.

Herald said he estimates the cost of caring for the Lexin wells will be somewhat less than $1 million this year.

An AER environmental protection order was also issued to Lexin requiring it to address issues at its Mazeppa sour gas plant 65 kilometres south of Calgary.

The regulator said Lexin only partly complied with an order to shut the plant down last August after it laid off all but six of its staff. The AER said all wells feeding the facility have been shut off.

Andrew Read, a senior analyst for the Pembina Institute, an environmental group, said he applauds the AER’s order but added that it should move more quickly and administer financial penalties.

“I would like to see faster enforcement of breaches of these licence conditions because it does have an impact to, ultimately, what the liability is to the public,” Read said.

Taylor said Lexin asked the AER in January to allow it to designate its sour gas wells as “orphans” because of its poor financial condition but allow it continue to operate its other assets, a suggestion that was rejected.

The AER says most of the Lexin assets were purchased about two years ago from MFC Industrial. MFC had bought the properties from Calgary-based oil and gas company Compton Petroleum in 2012.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016


Alberta shuts down Lexin Resources, leaving big mess to clean up

‘We have not issued an order like this to a company this size,’ AER spokesman says

Tracy Johnson · CBC News


The Alberta Energy Regulator will shut down 1,600 sites, including 1,380 wells owned by Lexin Resources. (Todd Korol/Reuters)


The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has suspended the operation of natural gas and crude oil producer Lexin Resources, leaving more than 1,600 well sites, pipeline segments and other facilities to be cleaned up or sold off.

This is the largest suspension order ever by the AER.

Alberta Energy Regulator tries to stem tide of orphan wells

Calgary-based Lexin, which also operated a sour gas plant in southern Alberta, has 1,380 well sites, 201 pipeline licences and 81 facilities. Those have all been turned over to the Orphan Well Association to be suspended and locked up.

“We have not issued an order like this to a company this size,” said Cara Tobin, a spokesperson for the regulator. “We will be working with Lexin and with interested participants and the Orphan Well Association to shut in and secure the sites.”
Lexin unable to maintain sour gas wells

In making the suspension, the AER said Lexin failed to comply with orders made by the regulator to address hydrocarbon spills at its sour gas facility, to close and abandon wells, to pay its administration fees or its security deposit for well reclamation.

As well, in a letter to the AER dated Jan. 31, Lexin advised the regulator it was unable to provide proper health and safety overview and measures for its sour wells after Feb. 15.

In recent months, alarms were raised about Lexin’s sour gas wells and facilities in the province. Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide and is toxic if released into the atmosphere.

Allan MacRae — a professional engineer who used to be responsible for the High River sour gas plant under a previous owner — said the company wasn’t injecting anti-corrosive elements into its pipelines.

He informed the AER of his concerns and the regulator told the company in August to suspend operations at the plant.

MacRae said now that the plant is shut down, it should remain so. “This is a very severe condemnation of the company,” said MacRae. “You don’t see these very often.”
Orphan Well Association workload to jump

The AER will now work with the Orphan Well Association and the company to determine what is to be done with the remaining well sites and facilities.

“What we’re doing now is to shut in and secure the sites and to make sure it’s left in a safe state,” said Tobin.

The Orphan Well Association currently has a list of nearly 1,600 wells that need to be plugged and reclaimed and a further 700 that are under reclamation. The suspension order of Lexin could potentially double the association’s workload.


A previous version of this story stated wells operated by Lexin had not been maintained. CBC News has learned the wells were in fact maintained before and after the plant was shut down in the summer.
Feb 15, 2017 9:58 PM MT



9 Feb 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Ian Bickis

Anew report from the University of Calgary says there should be time limits on how long oil and gas wells in Alberta can be kept on standby because of the growing liability overhang.

Oil and gas producers partially close off, or suspend, wells rather than go ahead with a sometimes costly reclamation because the wells could be worth producing from again in the future.

The report by Lucija Muehlenbachs at the university’s School of Public Policy, however, says that most of the roughly 80,000 inactive wells in the province likely wouldn’t be restarted even if oil prices or technology significantly improve.

“Looking at what we’re seeing in the data of wells moving in and out of activity, it’s very rare,” Muehlenbachs said.

Her research has found that even if oil prices were to double, only about 12 per cent of oil wells would be reactivated. And if a technology breakthrough were to increase reserves five-fold, only about 10 per cent of oil wells and six per cent of gas wells would likely be restarted.

The report finds that most wells aren’t fully reclaimed to avoid the cost of doing so, and with no time limit on how long they can remain on standby, there’s a risk that companies might not be around in the future to pay for those liabilities.

“This is an accumulation of liability,” said Muehlenbachs. “If they’re allowed to leave them inactive, then why not just leave them inactive forever?”

The orphan well fund, which manages wells where the owner has gone bankrupt or can’t be found, has already gone from 162 in early 2015 to 1,395 as of last December.

Many other jurisdictions also don’t have limits on formally abandoning and reclaiming a well, but about a third of American states have a limit ranging from six to 300 months with possible extensions, Muehlenbachs noted.

Mark Salkeld, president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, asked the federal government last year for hundreds of millions of dollars to help clear the backlog of inactive wells and put members back to work.


Wildrose open to PC merger

27 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Jean says merger would be done under Wildrose rules

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has opened the door to uniting with the Progressive Conservatives to end more than a decade of bruising political infighting between Alberta’s centre-right parties.

But Jean said if it’s going to happen, the Wildrose members have to say yes, and it will be done under the Wildrose umbrella and under Wildrose rules.

“While I am confident that Wildrose would defeat (Premier Rachel Notley’s) NDP on our own in the next election, consolidating and uniting like-minded conservatives under a single banner is the best chance that we’ll be successful,” Jean said Thursday in a video statement released online to the media and to party members.

Jean also said if the party votes to merge, he will step down as leader and run in a leadership race to be held this summer.

“Let me be clear on this point — I plan to be Alberta’s next premier,” said Jean.

“It is my vision and my plan to make Alberta a place of unparalleled greatness, leading the strongest period of job creation in our history.”

Jean said he is acting on the wishes of most party members who have told him over the past year that he should pursue unity, but only in a way that honours the Wildrose commitment to grassroots democracy. He said he and other caucus members will attend town hall meetings to gauge the interest and attain a clear mandate to hold such a vote “if the PC members select a dance partner that we’ve been looking for.”

The Progressive Conservative party is currently in a leadership race that has two of the four candidates running on a promise to get a deal with the Wildrose.

Candidate Jason Kenney said if he wins the March 18 delegated vote, he will seek a mandate to dissolve the party and merge it with a dissolved Wildrose party to create a new conservative entity, possibly titled the Conservative Party of Alberta.

He wants party members to make major decisions and to have a united party ready to fight the next provincial election in the spring of 2019.

Kenney lauded Jean’s announcement.

“This demonstrates real leadership on Brian’s part and it demonstrates that he’s in touch with the common sense of common Albertans who are telling us to bury the hatchet, park the egos, park the brands and labels and get past a decade of division,” he said.

Asked about Jean’s plan to keep the Wildrose framework and funding intact, Kenney said that will be sorted out.

“I’m not going to get into legal argy-bargy at this point. The fundamental question is whether or not we seek unity.”

Earlier Thursday, PC leadership candidate Richard Starke, a staunch critic of Kenney’s unity plan, reversed course and said he, too, would seek some kind of accommodation with the Wildrose, although he didn’t give details on what that might look like.

The other two PC candidates, Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson and former PC MLA Stephen Khan, are running to rebuild, not merge, the party, which finished third in the last election after governing Alberta for more than four decades.

Kenney’s campaign has polarized debate within the party. Critics say he is moving the PCs to the fringe and away from the political mainstream by embracing the Wildrose brand of social conservatism.

PC party members also voted overwhelmingly last spring to rebuild the party and not pursue any mergers.

Both Kenney, Jean and Starke say time is of the essence to avoid future vote-splitting that will allow the NDP to come up the middle in 2019 for a second consecutive majority government.

They say the NDP’s economic policies, including a carbon tax and higher minimum wages, are impeding an economic recovery from low oil prices.

While Jean spoke of working together, his speech revealed scars that remain from the bruising right fight.

“Our party must never be a home for cronies who want to use government and politics for their own personal gain,” he said.

“In the last election, Albertans soundly rejected those who put personal ambition ahead of principles.”


TransCanada renews Keystone XL application

27 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

TransCanada Corp. has submitted a new presidential permit application to the U.S. Department of State for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The application comes only days after U.S. President Donald Trump asked the company to reapply and signed an order to help expedite the project.

The pipeline would ship oil 1,900 kilometres from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with other lines leading to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the project, which would carry some 830,000 barrels of oil a day, remains in the interests of both Canada and the U.S.

“This privately funded infrastructure project will help meet America’s growing energy needs as well as create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs and generate substantial economic benefit throughout the U.S. and Canada,” Girling said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Trump directed the State Department and other agencies to make a decision within 60 days of a final application and declared that a 2014 environmental study satisfies required reviews under environmental and endangered species laws.

A day later, Girling, speaking publicly for the first time since Trump’s move, said the company was talking with shippers to determine if they still support Keystone XL.

The company still faces bitter opposition from environmentalists, landowners and aboriginals who are determined to block Keystone XL, with hundreds protesting in front of the White House on news of Trump’s order.


New review halts Energy East pipeline plan

28 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

NEB to restart hearings

TransCanada won’t be getting a regulatory decision on its Energy East pipeline any time soon. The National Energy Board panel tasked with reviewing the $15.7-billion project decided Friday to throw out nearly two years of decisions made by the previous panel, which stepped down after concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

The board said all hearing steps and related deadlines for the TransCanada project no longer apply as it begins to determine a new list of issues, list of participants and new process for reviewing the application.

“After much thought and consideration, we feel that restarting the Energy East and Eastern Mainline hearings with a clean slate is the best course of action,” NEB spokesman Marc Drolet said in an email.

“We understand there have been process missteps in the past, and that our decision may be an inconvenience to some.”

The previous Energy East pipeline panel, which had been reviewing the project since TransCanada submitted its application in October 2014, stepped down last September after concerns were raised about a potential perception of bias after members met privately with Jean Charest while he was a paid TransCanada consultant.

A new panel was appointed earlier this month, with all three members committing not to speak with any members of the previous panel to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.

Much has changed in the pipeline world since the last panel stepped down, including federal approvals of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline projects, while the election and recent actions of U.S. President Donald Trump have opened the potential for TransCanada’s Keystone XL to go ahead.

“From the perspective of how much supply we have in the basin and how much potential pipeline capacity we have, things have changed quite dramatically,” said Jackie Forrest, vice-president of energy research at ARC Financial Corp.

She said there’s still the potential for Energy East, with its 900,000 barrels a day of committed shipments, to go ahead, even if there was excess capacity.

“That’s the old way of thinking, that supply must equal pipeline capacity. Really what Canadian industry needs is access to new markets,” Forrest said.

TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce said they will be reviewing the NEB’s decision to understand its impact on the project and the company, but similarly said the project remains important.

“Energy East remains of critical strategic importance because it will end the need for refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick to import hundreds of thousands of barrels of foreign oil every day, while improving overseas market access for Canadian oil,” said Duboyce in an email.

TransCanada isn’t starting entirely from scratch, with the NEB saying the company does not need to refile the more than 30,000-page application it submitted after 18 months of public consultations.

The new panel will, however, have to decide if the application is complete, and only then will the 21-month countdown start again.

Those who have already submitted an application to participate in the review process also don’t need to reapply.

The new panel will review all of the filed applications and release a new list of participants.



23 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Cathy Bussewitz and Geoff Mulvihill

States that depend heavily on federal renewable energy tax credits, grants and research, much of which comes from the Energy Department, are unsure what to expect with Donald Trump in the White House President Donald Trump has disputed climate change, pledged a revival of coal and disparaged wind power, and his nominee to head the Energy Department was once highly skeptical of the agency’s value. What this means for states’ efforts to promote renewable energy is an open question.
Associated Press photo
In this 2013 file photo, wind turbines lining the Altamont Pass near Livermore, Calif., generate electricity. California, Hawaii, Oregon, New York and many other Democratic-leaning states have ambitious goals to wean themselves off fossil fuels, but they rely heavily on federal grants, tax credits and research to support their efforts, programs that could evaporate or be cut significantly under the new Trump administration.

States that are pushing for greater reliance on wind and solar power are not quite sure what to expect as Trump takes over. Many of them depend heavily on federal renewable-energy tax credits, grants and research, much of which comes from the Energy Department.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick to lead the department, presents a contradictory figure: A Texas oil promoter, he also oversaw a huge expansion of wind-energy production while governor. When he ran for president in 2011, he included Energy on a list of departments he thought should be abolished, though he disavowed the idea Thursday at his Senate confirmation hearing.

“We don’t know what version of Perry is going to show up,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin.

Renewable energy accounts for about 15 per cent of the electricity generated in the United States. And 29 states have set targets for boosting their reliance on such power.

Officials, experts and advocates in more than a half-dozen states with some of the most ambitious goals told The Associated Press that they are on course to meet their targets. Most said that while Trump policies could slow the expansion, they won’t stop it.

The price of harnessing the power of the sun and wind has dropped so much that in many areas of the country, experts say it could be competitive with traditional power sources such as coal and natural gas even without federal subsidies. Further, they do not expect a fast repeal of the key federal tax credits that have propelled the industry for years.

Still, policies aimed at bringing more renewable power online quickly are not expected while Trump is in office.

“We need to be moving faster, not slower,” said Jeff Forward, president of the trade group Renewable Energy Vermont. “I fear we’re tapping on the brakes right now.”

Those who promote renewable energy are concerned because Trump has expressed doubts about whether climate change is real, even though scientists agree that it is happening and that the burning of fossil fuels is a major reason for it.

Trump also has called for reviving the coal industry, which has struggled in part because of the rise of renewable energy. And he has criticized wind turbines near Palm Springs, California, both for killing birds and for looking like a “junkyard.”

Perry, at his confirmation hearings, said he believes climate change is happening and that some of it is caused by human activity. He also said he favours an “all of the above” energy policy, the way he did in Texas, and wants the federal government to continue research on renewable energy. He didn’t say what he thought of green energy tax credits and other incentives.

The federal wind credit is set to be phased out in 2019, and the solar one, four years after that. Those incentives and other federal spending on renewable energy in fiscal year 2015 totalled about $10 billion, nearly twice as much as similar subsidies for fossil fuels.

In Hawaii, federal tax credits reduced the price for developers and homeowners by about $125 million annually from 2011 to 2014, according to an analysis by Blue Planet Foundation. During that time, the portion of the state’s electricity coming from renewables nearly doubled from 12 to 21 per cent.

Randy Iwase, chairman of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, said incentives are important to the state’s goal of having 100 per cent of its power generated from renewable sources by 2045, the nation’s most aggressive target.

“We are in a toddler stage,” he said. “When you lose focus, when attention is distracted, when you make it less of a priority, the toddler kind of wobbles.”

The Energy Department said in a report last year that the cost of getting power from wind fell more than 40 per cent from 2008 to 2015, and solar panel prices dropped more than 60 per cent in that period.

Market forces have made green power big in Republican-led states, with wind turbines springing up along the Great Plains from Iowa to Texas. In those places — many of which have low or no green-energy requirements — the arguments for renewable power are more often cost savings and job creation, rather than the environmental benefits.

In December, Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio vetoed a bill that would have delayed the requirements there. This month, Phil Scott, the new GOP governor in Vermont, affirmed his commitment to Vermont’s goal of 90 per cent green power by 2050.

Meanwhile, some Democraticleaning states have been pushing their requirements upward. Since 2015, both New York and California have increased their targets to 50 per cent by 2030, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he would like to go further than that.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, said he is committed to meeting the state’s target regardless of what policy changes come from Washington.


Water charter proposed for southern Alberta

22 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Stephanie Labbe Southern Alberta Newspapers

The Oldman Watershed Council (OWC) is excited for its new proposed Water Charter 2017 which is targeted to benefit the southwest part of the province.

Anna Garleff, communications specialist for the OWC, says this water charter is important because it is a formal confirmation from both citizens and their municipal leaders they are not only standing behind watershed protection on a theoretical level, but people throughout the Oldman Watershed now recognize there is a heightened sense of urgency and people are ready to act.

“We hope that all the municipal, county and industry leaders will sign on and that key community organizations and schools will also want to throw their support behind the movement and show the rest of the province that southern Alberta can demonstrate leadership,” says Garleff.

Municipal leaders can add themselves to this charter and be a part of the initiative.

It was a good day for the OWC, when on Nov. 3 the City of Lethbridge added itself to the charter. By signing the charter, the community pledges it will do what it can to help better the watershed. Other communities or groups that have signed up include the M.D. of Pincher Creek, Coalhurst, Nobleford, Pogo Bros and Vauxhall.

Garleff says Nanton has also expressed interest in signing the charter and will be following up with the OWC in the new year. Many irrigation district administrators have shown interest as well.

“We hope that people will find out that watershed stewardship is very rewarding and that it is easy and fun to make positive change. We hope people will make new connections and friendships and experience the satisfaction of having done something truly beneficial for everyone who lives, works and plays in the Oldman including for our furred and finned friends,” adds Garleff.

Garleff says the activities of the charter will kick off on the May long weekend and organizations can participate at any time. Water acts can range anywhere from garbage pick-ups and weed pulls to stopping the purchase of bottled water.

People can also take part in storm drain clean ups, stream bank restoration work and bridge decking. These activities can be done anywhere in the watershed. With this charter, the OWC will also organize classroom presentations.


Myths hurting beef industry: consultant

20 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald
J.W. Schnarr
[email protected]

The disconnect between the agriculture industry and consumers, and the truth behind some of the myths surrounding the beef industry, were explored by guest speaker Jude Capper at this year’s Tiffin Conference.

“( The disconnect) seems to be getting bigger with the rise of media people who like to tell the consumer what they think we do rather than what we actually do,” said Capper.

Capper is an independent Livestock Sustainability Consultant based in Oxfordshire, U.K. Her research focuses on modelling the environmental impact of livestock production systems, specifically dairy and beef — projects include the effect of specific management practices and technology use upon environmental impact.

Some popular media myths explored by Capper include the effectiveness of the “Meatless Monday” campaign; ecological impact of beef production; differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef; the image of the “factory farm” versus the reality; and the perceived dangers of hormones in beef.

“Meatless Monday” as an environmental movement doesn’t have the impact some believe it does, according to Capper.

She said the total carbon footprint from meat in Canada amounts to about 3.9 per cent.

“What that means is if everyone in Canada went meatless every Monday for a whole year, the national carbon footprint would come down less than 0.55 per cent,” she said. And because the meat needs to be replaced with another food, the idea is misleading to the public.

In regards to the ecological impact of beef production, Capper said efficiencies at all levels of production have led to larger yields. Between 1977 and 2007, water use in the U.S. was reduced by 12 per cent, land use reduced by 33 per cent, and carbon footprint by 16 per cent.

“They are all really good gains simply made because they were getting better at caring and breeding and feeding those animals,” she said. “Not because anybody was thinking about carbon.”

There is a perception that grass-fed beef must be better than corn-fed beef, which is part of the image of the “factory farm,” sometimes mistaken as feedlots.

But what they fail to see is how most of a feedlot cow’s life was spent on pasture, and that they are moved to feedlots for the final few months before being processed.

Capper said in Canada, the average cow-calf operation has 59 cows.

“There is a perception to the consumer that (ranchers) have these big factory-type farms,” she said. “But it’s completely wrong.”

Finally, the idea of hormones in beef and dairy has been overblown, according to Capper, and has not been helped by marketing campaigns aimed at providing “hormone-free” meat.

“There are hormones in just about everything we eat with the exception of maybe salt and sugar,” she said.

The total concentration of estrogen in implanted beef is about 5.1 nanograms of estrogen per 200gram steak, according to Capper. Compare that to the estrogen in a single birth control pill, which has 35,000 nano-grams of estrogen.

“If any person was going to be biologically affected by the estrogen in beef, they would have to eat more than 1,500 kilograms per day,” she said.

Capper said the ag industry needs to be better at informing the public. The reality of farmers and ranchers as stewards of the land and caretakers of their animals is a message that more people need to hear.

“The perception to the consumer is the image of big, bad farmers throwing stuff in the water, not caring for animals, and so on,” she said. “And it isn’t true at all.”

The Tiffin Conference is a one-of-a-kind event in southern Alberta and has been an important platform for discussing current issues and trends in the red meat industry.


Regulator not liable in fracking suit

14 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Supreme Court rules against woman

The Supreme Court of Canada says an Alberta woman cannot sue the province’s energy regulator as part of her claim that hydraulic fracturing so badly contaminated her well that the water can be set on fire.

In a 5-4 ruling Friday, the high court rejected Jessica Ernst’s argument that a provincial provision shielding the regulator from legal action was unconstitutional.

Ernst began legal action against the regulator, Calgary-based energy company Encana and Alberta Environment in 2007.

She alleges that fracking on her land northeast of Calgary released hazardous amounts of methane and other chemicals into her well and that her concerns were not properly investigated.

Ernst sought damages of $50,000 in claiming the regulator breached her constitutional right to free speech.

She said that from November 2005 to March 2007, the regulator’s compliance branch cut off contact with her, saying she would have to raise her concerns only with the regulator and not through the media or other public means.

Ernst claimed that infringed her charter right to free speech — effectively punishing her for the public criticism and preventing her from speaking out further.

The Alberta courts cited the immunity provision in provincial law and exempted the Alberta Energy Regulator from the lawsuit.

Ernst argued at the Supreme Court that the immunity clause in the Energy Resources Conservation Act was unconstitutional because it barred her claim for charter damages.

In the court’s reasons for judgment, Justice Thomas Cromwell said Ernst could have asked a court for judicial review of the regulator’s purported bar on communication with her. If she had established a case, the court could have set aside the regulator’s directive, he wrote.

“While an application for judicial review would not have led to an award of damages, it might well have addressed the breach much sooner and thereby significantly reduced the extent of its impact as well as vindicated Ms. Ernst’s charter right to freedom of expression.”

Cromwell also noted the regulator has the public duty of balancing several potentially competing rights, interests and goals. Allowing people to bring claims for damages against the regulator has the potential to deplete its funds and time.

In addition, Cromwell wrote, it could “chill” the regulator’s ability to carry out its duties in the public interest.

In a dissenting opinion, four judges, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, said it was “not plain and obvious” that Ernst’s claim was barred by the immunity provision. They said it was arguable that the regulator’s allegedly punitive actions fell outside the scope of the provision.

The judges added it was premature to address the constitutionality of the immunity provision, and Ernst’s claim should be returned to the Alberta courts to decide “the important issues of free speech and charter remedies that her case raises.”

Ernst said she is “horrified” by what the ruling will mean to other Canadians whose drinking water could be affected by fracking chemicals.

“If they get contaminated or harmed, or their children get cancer from the fracking chemicals or get sick, and they present evidence to the regulator, and the regulator violates their charter rights in response and engages in abuse of process as they did with me — it is really terrible,” she said.

Cory Wanless, one of Ernst’s lawyers, said the ruling was actually a 4-4-1 split as one judge dismissed the appeal on technical grounds.

Wanless said the ruling does not resolve some of the key issues, including whether a government can pass a law that prevents people from going to court to challenge a regulator if they believe their charter rights have been breached.

“This judgment is going to cause some head-scratching among the legal community,” he said.

Ernst said she plans to focus her time and money on continuing her lawsuit against Encana and Alberta Environment.

She said she expects others will file similar lawsuits over regulators and fracking. “I worked as hard as I could to get as far as I could and now it is somebody else’s turn. I throw the gauntlet down.”

A spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator said the agency was reviewing the decision.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the case, said it was disappointed with the court ruling.

“This decision has worrisome implications for people across the country seeking to hold government appointed decision-makers accountable for egregious unconstitutional actions,” said Laura Track, the association’s lawyer.



13 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald
Bill Graveland

Two small western towns where coal is king look to the future in uncertain times

The companies come and go, but the coal remains. It’s been the major provider here. – Joe Jarina – Retired Sparwood coal miner
There’s a lot of speculation that you’re going to lose a bunch of your population. How can you get any business or convince industry to invest in our community? That’s a big hurdle right now. – Chris Warwick – Mayor of Hanna

Closure of coal-fired power plant in Hanna could cost 200 high-paying jobs — The hand-painted sign on a bumpy road on the east side of Hanna speaks volumes.

“Hanna supports coal, cows, gas and oil,” it says bluntly. The sign includes a circle with a line through it over the words “carbon tax.”

The town of 2,700, 230 kilometres northeast of Calgary, like many rural Alberta communities, has largely lived off agriculture.

But a large vein of thermal coal east of town led to the construction of the coalfired Sheerness generating plant in the early 1980s and has provided welcome jobs and business in the region ever since.

People worry that economic boost is threatened by a new carbon levy and the provincial government’s plan to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030 and move exclusively to natural gas, wind, solar and hydro energy instead.

Alberta’s climate-change plan includes an accelerated phase-out coal, which accounted for 55 per cent of electricity generation in the province in 2014.

“If it’s a complete 100 per cent closure we’re going to lose 200 full-time, well paying jobs. That’s about 7.5 per cent of our population,” says Hanna Mayor Chris Warwick.

“To put that into real life numbers, Edmonton losing 7.5 per cent is about 62,000 people — Calgary’s around 90,000 — so it’s a massive hit. These are well paying jobs so it’s not a good situation for us.”

Warwick says some families are already looking at moving out of Hanna if they can find work elsewhere and he worries about a snowball effect.

“It’s really hard right now even just to attract any investment into town. There’s a lot of speculation that you’re going to lose a bunch of your population. How can you get any business or convince industry to invest in our community? That’s a big hurdle right now.”

Alberta has pledged to work with Ottawa and communities affected by the phase out to explore options for the future, including transitioning to gas or hydro. The province has appointed a panel to meet with municipal leaders, workers and companies with the goal of easing the transition.

Still businesses are worried.

“We all have the entry-level jobs that everybody can get, but you can’t take the professional jobs that make the $80,000-plus a year. That’s a huge hole and I don’t know how we’re going to fill it,” says Murray Moench, who owns Hanna Motor Products.

He says it’s too soon to panic because wind turbines and solar power are not that effective and cost more.

Dale Crowle, who runs Hanna Building Supplies, says his customers are concerned.

“There’s going to be a lot of job losses. The tax base will be tough, resale on housing will be tough. There’s not a lot of new homes going up in Hanna,” he says.

“People are nervous. We see it every day here. It’s going to be tough.”

It’s a different situation 450 kilometres to the southeast in Sparwood, B.C., where coal is still king.

“The companies come and go, but the coal remains. It’s been the major provider here,” explains Joe Jarina, who retired a few years ago after more than 40 years in the coal sector.

Jarina has worked at three different sites in the Sparwood-Elkford Valley area and under different owners but, like many people, he simply refers to the operators as “the company.”

“Generally anybody you work for is the company”, he says with a chuckle.

Sparwood, unlike Hanna, has metallurgical coal, which is almost entirely exported to Japan and Korea for steelmaking.

That makes the product exempt from carbon tax.

Jarina comes from a coal mining family that has been in the area since the early 1900s. His father, an underground miner, was crushed by a rock when Jarina was 12 and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

But coal has remained a source of pride.

“It’s got the community together through good times and bad. It’s nice to live in a small town and the coal industry has provided jobs — good-paying jobs — and it’s really helped the town.”

Sparwood’s mayor says an increase in world prices over the past few years has kept the mountain community humming. Teck Resources employs about 4,000 people at its five steelmaking coal operations in the area.

“We’re very dependant. Coal is what we are — 90 per cent of the people who live in Sparwood are dependant on coal one way or another, whether it’s directly with Teck or sub-trades, or contractors,” says Mayor Cal McDougall.

“As the price of coal goes, so goes Sparwood.”

McDougall says even when prices for met coal were at rock bottom, the community managed to survive.

“Teck did a real good job in this downturn. They didn’t panic. They didn’t start laying a bunch of people off. They cut back on some of their contractors, which hurt. But the Teck guys, they kept them all.”


Carbon tax debate a complex issue

Letters to the Editor

5 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Much of the debate over the recently enacted carbon tax, it seems to me, misses the point.

The debate is often portrayed as a struggle between business people and consumers on the one hand, and unyielding environmentalists on the other. Actually, it is a little more complex than that. Admittedly, there are firmly committed environmentalists who are unlikely to compromise on either pipelines or oilsands extraction. But lost in the debate played out on editorial pages and newscasts is that both businesses and consumers have much more to gain from well-thought-out environmental initiatives than is generally recognized.

Albertans will be challenged to find new markets for our energy, agricultural, forestry and industrial products at a time when our traditional market in the United States appears to be softening. For many of these exports, our environmental credibility will have a lot to do with how well they are received.
Both the federal and Alberta governments recognize the link between sustainability and market access. The legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions in the oil patch at 100 megatons per year is a reflection of that fact. So, too, was the federal government’s insistence that Alberta put a carbon tax in place prior to approving two unpopular pipelines to the West Coast.

Alberta is in the unenviable position of deriving much of its wealth from an environmentally suspect source. Short of leaving the oil, gas and bitumen in the ground, Alberta needs to develop regulations, processes and innovative technologies that persuade our customers that we are serious about mitigating the environmental impacts associated with the energy sector.

Moreover, we should expect that future Albertans will be pressed to do the same thing in the agricultural, forestry, and manufacturing sectors.

Robert (Bob) Tarleck




5 Jan 2017
Lethbridge Herald

Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver has been fined for a conflict of interest for publicly calling for changes in electricity pricing in a way that could benefit his wife’s company. “I do not believe that Mr. McIver was intending to protect his wife’s business in asking the question,” said Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler, in a written ruling issued Wednesday.

She said while she believed his comments were likely part of the normal political give and take, “there could be unintended consequences that could benefit his wife.”

Trussler fined McIver $500, directed he apologize to the legislature assembly, and refrain from future comments or votes on the electricity file as long as Christine McIver is involved in the industry. McIver said he will abide by the decision. “MLAs need to be held to a high standard,” McIver said in an interview.

“The ethics commissioner says I fell short, even if it was (done) unintentionally, so what can I do but accept the decision.”

Trussler launched the investigation after receiving a complaint from NDP legislature member Heather Sweet in late November.

Sweet, the chair of the NDP caucus, said the Progressive Conservatives retain the me-first ethos from their days in government.

“The PCs haven’t changed their ways,” Sweet told reporters at the legislature. “They’re looking out for their friends and family and not out for the best interests of Albertans.”

Sweet said it’s the first such fine levied by the ethics commissioner’s office.

The investigation arose after Premier Rachel Notley’s government announced in November it would cap electricity prices in the short term as it transforms the power grid away from coal-fired electricity to one based on a mix of renewables and natural gas by 2030.

Analysis ‘It’s tricky’: Why there’s no magic number for an effective carbon tax

A look at 25 years of carbon tax
history around the world to see
what works

By Tracy Johnson, CBC News Posted: Jan 03, 2017 3:00 AM MTLast Updated: Jan 03, 2017 8:16 AM MT

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's climate strategy includes a carbon tax that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s climate strategy includes a carbon tax that went into effect on Jan. 1. (Amber Bracken/Canadian Press)

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It’s Day 3 of Alberta’s new carbon tax regime. Are you driving less? Putting on a sweater and turning down the thermostat? Considering solar panels, perhaps?

Because a carbon tax, after all, is supposed to make us change our behaviour and lead less carbon-intensive lives.

But will it work?

Fortunately, there’s 25 years of history to help us answer the question.

Finland introduced the very first carbon tax in 1990. The share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions that are taxed has since increased to 13 per cent, having roughly tripled in the past decade.

But evaluating and comparing the impact of different carbon taxes is complicated for several reasons.

First, governments charge very different prices for carbon dioxide emissions. Sweden, for example, charges $150/tonne, while Japan charges just $3/tonne.

Sweden' carbon tax sits at $150/tonne

Sweden’s carbon tax is $150/tonne. The country has lowered its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, while still growing its economy. (REUTERS)

Secondly, it’s not always possible to compare the carbon prices of different governments because some charge a tax, others use emissions trading systems and many European countries do both.

And finally, different governments charge different sectors of their economy. B.C.’s carbon tax, for example, covers 70 per cent of CO2 emissions, while Alberta’s will cover 78 per cent by 2020.

With all that in mind, the evidence does suggest it’s easier to change the way people heat their homes than how they get around. The examples also show it’s definitely possible for a government to grow its economy while imposing a carbon tax, but it’s tricky to lower emissions with a growing energy sector.

Sweden and its $150 tax

Sweden's GhG Emissions

Sweden’s greenhouse gas emissions from 1990-2012 (CBC)

Sweden puts the highest price on carbon. It first levied a tax in 1991 and the price has risen to $150/tonne. Swedes pay around $2 for a litre of gas — roughly 35 cents of which is carbon tax — but it hasn’t stopped them from driving. Emissions from the transport sector are down five per cent since 1990.

The major shift has come in the way Swedes heat their homes, with a move away from the burning of fossil fuels to the use of hydro- and nuclear-powered electricity and the burning of wood fibre and household waste.

Sweden’s annual direct greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 22 per cent between 1990 and 2013. At the same time, its economy grew by 58 per cent, which shows you can grow your economy and still decrease emissions.

The Norway example

Norway's GhG emissions

Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen in the past 25 years. (CBC)

Norway is close to Sweden geographically, but is more similar to Canada and Alberta in that its economy depends on fossil fuel extraction.

Like Sweden, it imposed a carbon tax in the early 1990s, but has kept its tax quite a bit lower. It was recently increased to around $64/tonne on the energy industry, but just $8/tonne for fisheries, while some other industries are exempt. Drivers pay 14 cents tax per litre of gasoline.

Norway's GHG emission performance in 2015

Despite a relatively high carbon price, Norway’s emissions continue to increase because of a boom in energy extraction. (Statistics Norway)

Norway hasn’t been as successful in lowering its emissions, in part because of the rapid growth of its energy industry, which saw emissions increase by more than 80 per cent between 1990 and 2015. Manufacturing and mining emissions are down nearly 40 per cent and heating emissions by nearly 60 per cent. But transportation emissions from road traffic are up 32 per cent since 1990.

As a result, Norway’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have grown by four per cent in the past 25 years. That’s quite a bit better than Canada, which saw its emissions increase by 20 per cent over the same period, but it does show the difficulty of controlling emissions with a growing energy sector.

The debate over B.C.’s tax

B.C. GhG emissions

B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped since it introduced a carbon tax in 2008. (CBC)

B.C. is often offered up as shining example of a carbon tax done right. It’s simple and broadly applied. At $30/tonne, it covers 70 per cent of the province’s emissions.

But there is a debate as to whether it actually works. The tax has been in place since 2008, so the province uses 2007 as its base of comparison. That year, B.C. emitted of 66.3 megatonnes of greenhouse gases. In 2014, that number had dropped nearly three per cent to 64.4 megatonnes. It’s interesting to note that Canada’s emissions dropped 3.4 per cent over that same period, which included the 2009 recession.

The B.C. example shows how hard it can be to isolate the impact of a carbon tax. The province’s population grew over that period, as did its natural gas industry. Overall emissions from road transportation were higher, but less energy was used for home heating.

“What we’d like to do is compare a B.C. that implemented the tax to the exact same province in which everything is exactly the same, but they did not implement the tax,” said Nicholas Rivers, Canada research chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa.

GTA Gas Prices 20110511

Nicholas Rivers, Canada research chair in climate and energy policy at the University of Ottawa, says there’s evidence B.C.’s carbon tax has helped reduce gas consumption. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Nonetheless, Rivers says estimates suggest the tax, which equals less than ten cents per litre of gasoline, contributes to a 5-10 per cent reduction in gasoline consumption.

So far, B.C’s carbon tax hasn’t caused a large-scale shift to public transit, but Rivers says his research shows carbon taxes are more likely to encourage people to move closer to work or to buy more fuel-efficient cars.

He says the bigger impact of a carbon price, particularly in Alberta, will be in electricity generation and heating, specifically a move away from coal.

Search for a magic number

History shows the higher the tax, the more incentive there is for people and industry to use energy more efficiently. While it’s difficult to compare jurisdictions, it will come as no surprise that Japan’s emissions have gone up with its $3/tonne tax, while Sweden’s have gone down with its $150/tonne tax.

Having said that, it’s hard to come up with a magic number for a price on carbon, according to Janet Milne, director of the University of Vermont’s environmental tax policy institute.

“It’s tricky for the economist to figure out why people’s behaviour changed,” she said. “In countries like Sweden, they’ve seen a significant improvement in their emissions profile, but you have to question whether that’s because of the tax or other policies.”

“In Japan there’s a very low-level tax, but the revenue is all dedicated to green energy or energy conservation purposes. It’s not a behavioural tax, but it’s pinning a cost on something that’s environmentally damaging and using the revenue to try to address the problem.”

‘It’s tricky for the economist to figure out why people’s behaviour changed.’ – Janet Milne,University of Vermont

Alberta’s tax starts at $20/tonne and will increase to $30/tonne in a year. If the federal government follows through on its commitment to impose a tax nationally, Canadians will pay $50/tonne by 2022. Other measures have also been promised to reduce emissions to meet our 2030 commitment of a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels.

We’ll need them, Rivers says. Without other policies, $50/tonne is probably not enough to reach our targets.

“You’d need a pretty high price,” he said. “We would want a price somewhere between $100 to $150 … to get us to our goal.”


Site C uproots farm family

13 Dec 2016

Lethbridge Herald


A farmer in northeast British Columbia is still hopeful that he’ll get to stay in his home, despite an announcement by BC Hydro that the company plans to seize the property to make way for a controversial hydroelectric project.

Jessica McDonald, BC Hydro’s president and CEO, said Monday that the company is expropriating Ken and Arlene Boon’s property to allow for the start of highway realignment work linked to the $8.8-billion Site C dam project.

The Boons must be out of their home by May 31, but they will be allowed to continue farming their land for two more years, McDonald said. The agreement allowing the Boons to stay on the property temporarily was not reached by consent but was signed last week by the family and the B.C. government, she said.

Ken Boon said Monday that he and his wife have not turned over their property, but did sign an agreement that will allow them to stay as long as possible.

The process has been a frustrating lesson in what rights landowners actually have, said Boon.


Pipelines go two-for-three

30 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Trudeau walks high wire on pipeline approvals

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved two major oil pipeline expansions Tuesday, including the deeply controversial Trans Mountain line through suburban Vancouver, while maintaining his government remains on course to meet its international climate commitments.

The announcement ends the new Liberal government’s year-long highwire act seeking to balance environmental stewardship and expansion of Canada’s resource economy.

“We are under no illusions that the decision we made today will be bitterly disputed by a number of people across the country who would rather we had made another decision,” Trudeau — flanked by a number of his senior cabinet ministers — told a news conference in Ottawa.

“We took this decision today because we believe it is in the best interests of Canada and Canadians.”

The Liberals have been setting the stage for pipeline approvals for months, highlighting environmental policy moves like a national carbon price while making the case that the jobs, economic boost and government revenues from fossil fuel exports are critical to the transformation to a low-carbon future.

It’s been a tough sell.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion has become a lightning rod for climate protests from coast to coast, with opponents from among Trudeau’s own caucus of Liberal MPs and his political ally, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Climate campaigners and indigenous groups immediately attacked the government decision as a betrayal, while B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak issued an anodyne statement noting the province’s own environmental assessment of Trans Mountain continues.

The fight overshadowed quieter deliberations about Enbridge’s proposed replacement of Line 3, a half-century old pipeline from Alberta to the United States that Trudeau approved Tuesday, effectively doubling its current working capacity.

Between the Trans Mountain and Line 3 expansions, the Liberals have approved the export of almost a million additional barrels of oil per day — and the production of between 23 and 28 million tonnes of additional greenhouse gases annually. Line 3 can actually handle another 155,000 barrels per day, but Enbridge would have to apply for a new permit.

The Liberals hoped to leaven those numbers with Tuesday’s decision to permanently shelve the stalled Northern Gateway pipeline across northwestern B.C. and impose a promised oil tanker ban on the northwest Pacific coast.

But the prime minister also left the door open to more pipeline approvals, saying each project would be examined on its merits. The “vital element,” said Trudeau, is the climate leadership of Alberta’s NDP government, which has imposed a 100-milliontonne cap on emission increases from the oil patch.

Trudeau said the Kinder Morgan approval, which includes 157 binding conditions set out by the National Energy Board, would create 15,000 new middle-class jobs.

“And as long as Kinder Morgan respects the stringent conditions put forward by the National Energy Board, this project will get built — because it’s in the national interest of Canadians, because we need to get our resources to market in safe, responsible ways, and that is exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.

Conservatives, however, immediately accused the government of providing less than half a loaf.

Interim Leader Rona Ambrose said the Liberals should have left Northern Gateway “on the table” and must now actively promote the other approved lines, particularly the beleaguered Trans Mountain expansion.

“I see very little prospect, politically speaking, that this pipeline will get built,” Ambrose said.

Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley, who met Trudeau following the announcement, lauded the prime minister for his “extraordinary leadership” — crediting the Liberals for building the economy and moving forward aggressively on the environment while “understanding that you can do both at the same time.”

Notley called the Kinder Morgan approval “very good news

for Albertans” at a difficult time for the province.

“It means that we can diversify our market, we can get our product to China and we can get more money for our product and we can enhance our economic independence not only in Alberta but all of Canada,” she said.

However, Tom Mulcair, leader of the federal New Democrats, said Trudeau “betrayed” British Columbians by breaking his “solemn promise” to never approve Kinder Morgan without redoing the Harper government’s flawed environmental review process.

“He still doesn’t even have a plan to deal with greenhouse gases after the Paris conference,” Mulcair said. “So, there’s no excuse for what he’s doing here today.”

Climate advocates such as Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence said the approvals raise “grave doubts” Canada can meet its international 2030 climate goals, and that much deeper emissions cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the Canadian economy.

Many indigenous leaders, with whom the Liberals have promised a new nation-to-nation relationship, were scathing.

“The struggle will simply intensify,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Chiefs. “It will become more litigious, it will become more political and the battle will continue.”

There are no conditions under which the chiefs would have been willing to agree to the project, Phillip added.

“The risks are just too grave. The tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet will increase by 700 per cent and it’s inevitable that there will be a collision in a very congested inlet.”

Trudeau made a point of saying overall ship traffic in the inlet would increase by only 13 per cent, but critics said the government clearly lacks community approval for the decisions.

“He doesn’t have social license,” cracked the NDP’s Mulcair. “Heck, he doesn’t even have a learner’s permit.”

Earlier Tuesday, the broad strokes of a year-long Liberal government effort to position the government between fossil fuel development advocates, indigenous groups and climate policy hawks played out during question period in the House of Commons.

Ambrose challenged Trudeau that it is not enough for the government to approve major pipelines; it must then “champion them through to the end” in order to see that they actually get built.

Mulcair, by contrast, accused the Liberals of a “Goldilocks approach” that has browbeat the Liberal party’s own environmentally conscious, antipipeline MPs into silence.

Trudeau was happy to claim the middle ground.

“One side of this House wants us to approve everything and ignore indigenous communities and environmental responsibilities,” he said.

“The other side of the House doesn’t care about the jobs or the economic growth that comes with getting our resources to market.”

The pipeline decisions follow weeks of Liberal government announcements designed to show it is serious about combating climate change, including an accelerated coal phase-out, a national floor price on carbon emissions starting in 2018 and $1.5 billion for ocean protection and spill cleanups.


Changes for Alta. electricity

30 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


The Alberta government is making more changes to how it handles electricity as it transitions out of coal-fired power.

The province is giving the entity that brokers the electricity system — known as the balancing pool — the ability to borrow money from the province to manage its funding obligations so those costs don’t get passed on to consumers.

The changes are in Bill 34, the Electric Utilities Amendment Act, which was introduced Tuesday.

The balancing pool was set up when Alberta deregulated electricity two decades ago, but Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd says that was a flawed approach.

She says power companies have been returning moneylosing power contracts to the balancing pool, with any outstanding costs to passed on to ratepayers.

“We inherited a volatile electricity system that did not look out for consumers,” said McCuaig-Boyd.

“We are correcting that and giving the balancing pool the tools it needs to limit cost impacts on consumers and enable greater predictability and stability.”

As it stands, the average electricity consumer gets a credit from the balancing pool each month of $1.95.

Without the proposed changes, the province says that $1.95 credit would become a monthly fee of $8.40, adding up to about $100 a year starting in 2017.

But opposition Progressive Conservative energy critic Rick Fraser said the province is once again using taxpayers’ money to backstop ill-conceived experiments that have contributed to this year’s $10.8-billion deficit.

“Allowing government to borrow unlimited funds from general revenue to keep the balancing pool afloat is a gross misuse of hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” said Fraser.

“We are facing electricity price volatility and a depleted balancing pool because of aggressive and ideological NDP policies.”


Alberta to revamp its electricity plan

24 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald



Alberta is changing how it produces and pays for electricity as it enters a new era of greener energy sources.

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd announced Wednesday the province is moving away from electricity deregulation, which ties investment to volatile swings in spot prices. It has been in place in Alberta for two decades. “The system must deliver affordable, stable prices and reliable energy,” McCuaig-Boyd said.

“(Alberta’s) current electricity market is an outlier among North American jurisdictions.

“This built-in volatility isn’t enough to make sure there’s incentive to build and pay for the necessary infrastructure to power Alberta’s future.”

McCuaig-Boyd said officials will begin creating the framework, expected to be ready in 2021, for a new system known as a capacity market.

In the new system power producers will be paid for spot prices, as before. But now they will also get contracts to build up capacity — even if it isn’t all needed.

The plan is to ensure there is always enough electricity in reserve to offset any potential shortages as Alberta moves to replace coal-fired electricity with a mix of natural gas-fired power along with renewables like wind and solar.

The province estimates it will need up to $25 billion in new investment in electricity generation to support this shift.

The new approach carries a risk that ratepayers will have to pay more for excess capacity, but it is expected to reduce market volatility.

McCuaig-Boyd said prices will remain affordable.

On Tuesday, Premier Rachel Notley announced prices will soon be capped at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour through to 2021 to protect homeowners from any price spikes during the transition.

Alberta’s power prices are currently about half that 6.8 cent rate, but have spiked much higher over the past decade.

If they go over 6.8 cents, power producers would be compensated.

Don MacIntyre, energy critic for the Opposition Wildrose party, called the changes unnecessary, and said all risk will ultimately be transferred from power producers to consumers.

“Today’s announcement puts the burden entirely on electricity consumers and taxpayers,” said MacIntyre. “Make no mistake — this feels a lot like Ontario.”

In Ontario, electricity rates for homes and small businesses jumped an estimated 70 per cent between 2006 and 2014 as coal was being phased out.

Progressive Conservative energy critic Rick Fraser said he is cautiously optimistic the new market will work.

But he said it’s a decision driven by the Notley government’s desire to extricate itself from problems it created by rushing through major changes to the economy with its climate change plan.


Alberta government caps power prices at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour

The Alberta government is introducing a cap on electricity prices, which it says will protect consumers from “volatile energy prices” as the province moves away from coal-fired electricity production.

READ MORE: Phasing out coal: good for the environment, bad for your wallet

The cap, which will be fully implemented by June 2017 and run until 2021, will ensure Albertans pay no more than 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

That’s about twice what most Albertans pay now.  The current regulated rate stands at about 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

The province said when the rate ceiling is in effect, consumers on the Regulated Rate Option (RRO) will pay the lower of the market rate or the government’s ceiling rate, and it will be automatically applied to bills.

Albertans may also choose to continue to take advantage of an offer from any private supplier they believe better suits their needs, the province added.

Premier Rachel Notley said the cap, along with other reforms, will ensure stable and affordable prices during the transition. Notley’s government is working to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030 and replace it with renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro.

READ MORE: Alberta NDP’s plan to phase out coal could triple power bills: Coal Association

The province is still working out what will happen if the spot price goes above 6.8 cents. Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd will hold consultations with distributors, RRO providers, retailers and consumers, beginning in December.

Notley said one option to cover higher power prices us to use the carbon levy fund.

So is this a step back towards regulation?

“This is part of a plan that will move Alberta back towards the mainstream of electricity production, distribution and sales in North America,” Notley said. “And in so doing it will provide greater stability in prices for consumers and ultimately it will provide greater stability for investors as well.”

Enmax said electricity is essential to Albertans’ lives and the economy and any policy that impacts one part of the system affects all the others.

“Restructuring this system therefore demands proper understanding, planning and consultation,” the company said in a statement.

The rest of the statement reads:

“We appreciate the need to protect consumers in anticipation of the future volatility that is inevitable with Alberta’s shift to renewables and the costs of taking out coal-fired generation. However, the government’s announcement today on a price cap was short on details and ignores the fact that retailers have been providing this protection from price volatility for a decade.

“To put this in context, ENMAX Energy and other electricity retailers have competitive fixed rate contracts that are already protecting customers against the potential volatility of the RRO electricity rate.

“Moving forward, ENMAX intends to be fully engaged in the government consultation, keeping the interests of our customers front and centre.”

The province said historically, regulated electricity rates have been extremely volatile: the price increased 65 per cent in a single month in April 2011, and dropped 42 per cent in June 2014.

“Previous Alberta governments experimented with a risky and volatile form of electricity deregulation,” Notley said. “This experiment left families, businesses and our economy at the mercy of sudden price spikes and uncertainty like we’ve seen in the past and need to protect against in the future.”

A study done at the beginning of this year said that Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan would result in big reductions in emissions, but that the cost of boosting renewable energy usage would mean significantly higher electricity rates.

READ MORE: Carbon price won’t be determining factor for oilsands development: report

That triggered a backlash from power companies.

A number of private operators, including Enmax and Capital Power, sought to return to the province money-losing electricity deals they say were made more unprofitable by the new climate rules.

The PPAs, or power purchase arrangements, are the backbone of the deregulated electricity system created under the former Progressive Conservative government in 2000.

The idea was for power companies to buy electricity from generators at auction via the PPAs, then re-sell it to consumers for profit. But the rules stipulate that no matter what happens to prices, generators always get a reasonable rate of return.

The power buyers were, in turn, promised that if the government made changes to make the deals unprofitable or made money-losing deals “more unprofitable,” they could effectively turn the contracts back over to consumers through a neutral third-party entity.

In recent months, companies that buy electricity off coal-fired plants have done just that.

READ MORE: Return of Alberta power contracts to cost $600M, says study

They say the decision by Notley’s government in June 2015 to hike the cost of carbon fees on large emitters made money-losing contracts “more unprofitable,” triggering the give-back.

The government is arguing that low power prices, not government action, triggered the decline in PPA value.

READ MORE: Alberta government open to talks with power providers over electricity dispute

— With files from The Canadian Press

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally stated the cap is higher than any price spikes going back more than a decade. However, the province said that was not correct. In 2012, price spiked up to 15 cents and in 2014, prices averaged above 7 cents.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Ottawa property owners concerned about farmland protection changes

City planning for housing

population of 1.2 million

by 2036

By Kate Porter, CBC News

Posted: Nov 22, 2016 5:43 PM

The City of Ottawa has assigned scores to land parcels based on the quality of the soil for farming. Some properties will be downgraded to a general rural designation, while others at set to be protected at prime farmland.

The City of Ottawa has assigned scores to land parcels based on the quality of the soil for farming. Some properties will be downgraded to a general rural designation, while others at set to be protected at prime farmland. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Ottawa is redesignating parcels of land to protect prime farmland, and that’s left property owners challenging new limits to what they’ll be able to do with their land.

The Ontario Municipal Board required the city to update its 20-year-old system for evaluating land, known as LEAR, to reflect changes in farming and soil mapping.

Now, the city has assigned scores to properties based on the soil’s quality for farming and followed up by making on-site visits and taking aerial photos.

Some 300 property owners were sent notices in recent weeks alerting them their land could change from general rural to an agricultural area, or vice versa.

On Tuesday, councillors heard stories from players big and small, all affected in different ways, from housing developers with fields on the edge of suburbia to a Constance Bay resident with a woodworking and pottery studio who’s concerned he won’t be able to ply his craft on land deemed a farm.

‘I don’t want my rights infringed upon’

Tony Faranda was shocked to learn the city thinks his 200 acres in the Munster area should no longer be labelled simply “general rural.”

Tony Faranda, rural property owner

Tony Faranda, who owns 200 acres in the Munster, was shocked to learn his property would soon be deemed prime farmland. He doesn’t think his property is good farmland and is concerned about how that will limit what he’s allowed to do with it. (Kate Porter/CBC)

“You can grow hay on it. That’s not prime farmland,” he said.

Faranda, who’s a carpenter, said he’s been losing sleep thinking the redesignation could limit his options on his own property.

“I’d probably sever a lot for each child in the future. That’s my intention — nothing bigger. But I also don’t want my rights infringed upon. It’s not fair if it’s not prime farmland,” Faranda said.

He said he’s hired an expert to do independent testing of the soil to fight the new designation.

Protecting farmland more important than housing, councillor says

On the other hand, a parcel at the edge of Orléans at Trim and Innes roads has been scored lower than in the past and can become general rural area rather than an agricultural area, staff noted.

Meanwhile, Cardel Homes went to city hall Tuesday to ask the city to consider downgrading land it owns at the edge of Riverside South, where it plans a subdivision, from agricultural area to general rural.

But Coun. Scott Moffatt said there’s little chance that will happen because the soil on that Rideau Road parcel is excellent.

The city thinks differently now about farmland, he said.

“We saw growth, between Kanata and Stittsville that looks like it’s really good farmland. The policies didn’t exist to protect the farmland, and now we’re working harder to protect the prime agricultural farmland,” said Moffatt.

Moffatt said if the city’s going to grow — and the city projects it will need another 130,000 dwellings over the next 20 years to accommodate a population of 1.2 million in 2036 — it will have to happen on marginal soil, not prime farmland.


Quarantine comes with a ‘devastating’ cost

There are roughly 10,000 cattle under quarantine, and every animal can cost as much as $3 a day in feed and yardage

Ranches under quarantine in southeastern Alberta could be collectively losing $15,000 to $30,000 per day feeding and caring for the roughly 10,000 cattle they can neither move nor sell.

And much of that money may never be recovered, which is prompting calls for a new approach to compensating producers whose herds are being investigated for bovine tuberculosis.

“These are cow-calf producers, and they’re not able to move their calves at exactly the time of year that you would be moving them to sell them,” said Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers.

“Now they’re having to hold and feed their calves, and they don’t have facilities or feed for wintering their calves. And because they haven’t made any sales, they don’t have any money to purchase feed.

“It’s been devastating for those producers.”

In late September, the USDA confirmed a case of bovine tuberculosis in one cow from a farm near Jenner, and since then, around 33 farms in Alberta and two in southern Saskatchewan have been quarantined. The positive case of the disease will not change Canada’s tuberculosis-free status and should not affect trade, said Smith.

“The tuberculosis case does not have huge significance for the industry as a whole, but it’s devastating for those producers who are affected by it,” he said.

“We’ve asked the provincial government to look at AgriRecovery — which is disaster funding — to offset the costs to producers and also look at some short-term financial support to get them through this crunch.”

Producers receive fair market value for any animals that test positive for the disease and are destroyed, but “there’s no federal compensation in place to pay for those animals in terms of yardage and feed,” said veterinarian Dr. Cody Creelman.

“There are some resources available within each province — like AgriStability — that can potentially help offset some of those costs, but it’s very difficult,” said Creelman of Veterinary Agri-Health Services in Airdrie.

These guys are going from day to day, and these applications aren’t processed overnight. You have living creatures that need these resources, and I don’t know of a good solution in terms of making sure these farmers are taken care of.”

And as the quarantine stretches on, the costs will continue to climb, he added. Costs will vary depending on the price of feed and the type of winter feeding system used, but at a minimum, producers can expect to pay around $1 to $2 per head per day to feed cattle over the winter — not counting yardage costs.

“You could expect on a per-animal basis to be running between 50 cents and $1 per animal per day to keep those animals in terms of yardage,” said Creelman.

“Then it’s really dependent on what you have available for feed — whether you’re buying it, able to use some forage, or still have some saved. But it gets more and more expensive as you get into the winter.”

And for those producers who don’t have the facilities or cash flow to feed their cattle over the winter, this quarantine is quickly becoming a crisis.

“The majority of the producers on the cow-calf side is going to be lucky to break even with every factor working in their favour,” said Creelman.

“For producers, cash flow is strapped already right now because calf markets are down, but these guys have lost the ability to sell into the higher markets earlier on.

“Emergency is the perfect word for it.”

Long investigation

And the CFIA doesn’t yet know how long the quarantine will last as it begins testing the 10,000 cattle, but in a Nov. 10 statement, it said it “is not expected to be completed for several months.”

“We don’t know what the final timelines will be, but I don’t see the timelines shortening up,” said Creelman.

The “sheer size” of the herds being tested is slowing down the process, he added.

“We’re talking about very progressive producers who are running very large operations, so the logistics of being able to move those animals and implement protocols — well, I don’t think this scale was ever imagined from a regulatory standpoint,” said Creelman.

The protocols were likely designed for average cattle herds of around 100 to 200 cows, he said, and with that number, “it’s logistically feasible to run those animals through and do the tests.”

“But now we’re talking about very large herds, and I don’t think anyone thought of this scenario,” he said.

Initially, the CFIA sent only two teams to test the animals, but it has since added three more.

“That will speed the process along, but once again, we’re talking about massive amounts of cattle, and it’s very difficult to scale that test. There’s nothing you can really do to speed up the results either.”

But it’s unlikely that many more farms will be quarantined in the weeks ahead, said Smith.

“They think they’re getting close to the number of herds that will end up being quarantined, though they may have a few more,” he said. “They will be doing trace-outs of the animals that were part of the infected herd over the last five years, but that typically won’t result in quarantines of facilities. It will just identify specific animals that need to be watched.”

But the CFIA has committed to improving the “information flow” to affected producers, said Smith.

“Producers are concerned and they have a lot of questions about how the investigation is proceeding,” he said. “They made a commitment to us that they’re going to do a better job of communicating with the producers who are affected by the investigation.

“The challenge is that they’re doing an investigation, so until you get the results of the investigation, you don’t have much information to impart to people.”

Too early to blame elk

One of the unknowns is the origin of this particular case of bovine tuberculosis.

“We have no sense of where this came from,” said Smith. “This is a strain of TB that hasn’t been detected in Canada before in either livestock or wildlife, so we don’t have any sense right now of the origin of this disease.”

But the industry needs to be careful about drawing conclusions from that, said Dr. Eugene Janzen, a professor at the University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine.

“Other countries in the world have reported different strains than we’re familiar with,” he said.

“The science of examining those organisms — the molecular tests that we’re able to do — have probably pointed out differences that we might not have been aware of in the past.

“We’re still awaiting completion of that investigation, and while we’re awaiting that, we’re speculating quite a bit.”

The prime suspects are the 7,000 or so wild elk that roam on the Suffield military base directly south of where the infected cow came from, said Janzen.

“There’s lots of precedent for wildlife acting as a reservoir or contributing to the persistence of the problem within the cattle herd,” said Janzen. “But we have to be careful not to incriminate wildlife simply because, at this stage, we don’t know.

“Until we know for sure, (culling) is probably not a discussion we want to have.”

Creelman agrees

“It’s too soon to tell, and really, without evidence of TB within that native herd of elk or deer by culling or testing, it would be impossible to tell or do any tests on the cows to determine if that’s the case.”

Right now, the CFIA is focused on testing cattle — not elk — and aside from some “advanced passive surveillance during this hunting season,” that’s unlikely to change, said Smith.

“Ultimately, we expect that the investigation will extend out to the wildlife, but other than this enhanced passive surveillance, the current focus is on trying to get the cattle tested.”



18 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Alberta Progressive Conservatives embracing a far-right ideology, says Jansen Aone-time candidate for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership has crossed the floor to the governing NDP.

Sandra Jansen, a Calgary member of the legislature, quit the Tory race last week. She said personal and online insults aimed at her progressive views had become intolerable.

She said the abuse peaked at a recent Tory policy convention when her nomination forms were vandalized and supporters of another candidate harassed her in the hallways.

Jansen, a two-term MLA, had openly indicated she was mulling whether to leave the Tory caucus and party.

She also accused leadership candidate Jason Kenney, a cabinet minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, of bringing “Trump-style politics’’ to Alberta.

“I don’t believe that there has been anything moderate or pragmatic being offered or even being discussed by the people intent on taking over the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta,” Jansen said Thursday.

Seeing the legacy of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed being “kicked to the curb by extremists who are taking over the PC party has been heartbreaking to me,” Jansen said.

“The tone that has been brought into Alberta politics belongs in our past,” she said.

“Most parties would describe themselves as big tent … It wasn’t big enough to fit me and I was told that over and over.”

Premier Rachel Notley said Jansen has always been a voice for moderate and progressive politics.

“We share some very important values and priorities that serve Alberta well in government,” Notley said.

Notley said the province is facing challenging times and it’s important to pull together.

“We don’t divide ourselves from each other. We don’t call each other names. We don’t harass each other. We don’t try to pull each other down,” she said.


Study examines Alta. quakes, with suspected link to fracking

18 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Research suggests hydraulic fracking can cause earthquakes in at least two ways — and one of them can cause tremors months after the activity stops.

“The seismicity is persistent after the operations are completed,” said David Eaton, a University of Calgary seismologist, whose paper has been published in the journal Science.

Eaton has been studying earthquakes that have shaken the Fox Creek region of northwestern Alberta for years.

The largest, measuring between 4.2 and 4.8 on the Richter scale, occurred in January. The area, which is in the centre of the Duvernay oil and gas field, has experienced hundreds of tremors since 2013.

Scientists have long known the shakers are associated with oilfield practices.

In the United States, underground waste-water disposal seems to be the cause. In Alberta, research points to hydraulic fracking, which involves pumping high-pressure fluids underground. That creates tiny cracks in rock and releases natural gas or oil held inside.

How the widely used technique creates earthquakes has largely remained a mystery — until now.

Eaton and his co-author Xuewei Bao used a mathematical algorithm to isolate and locate more than 900 earthquakes in the Fox Creek area.

“That gave us the ability to image the fault structure,” Eaton said. “We could see that there were steeply dipping faults that extended from the injection level down into the Precambrian basement.”

The pair also realized there were two hairline faults that hadn’t been spotted in previous work.

One fault, some distance from the fracking site, quaked as fluids were pumped down and stopped when the pumping did.

Eaton said those quakes were caused by stress changes on the rock from the pumping. When the pumping ended, the stress was reduced.

But the other fault, very close to the site, remained active for months.

The researchers combined their precise fault-mapping with equally precise data on how much fluid was pumped underground, when it was pumped and where.


Rural politicians boo Alta. climate-change plan

18 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


The Alberta government got a bit of a rough ride at a meeting with rural politicians in Edmonton.

Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman was booed Thursday as she defended the NDP’s climatechange plan, which includes a carbon tax and a phase-out of coal-fired electricity.

Hoffman said it’s necessary to address climate change because the science behind it is real and there are serious health concerns tied to burning coal.

Hoffman and other cabinet ministers fielded questions from hundreds of delegates to the fall convention of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

Premier Rachel Notley said in a speech that she understands concerns and debate is always healthy. But she told delegates that a robust climate-change plan gives Alberta more credibility as it fights for energy infrastructure such as pipelines.

“People are going to disagree sometimes, and we know that sometimes making hard decisions, particularly long-term decisions that bring about long-term repositioning and improvement for sometimes people who aren’t voters right now, that’s a little hard,” Notley said.


Protesters rally against carbon tax – Event draws crowd to Galt Gardens

6 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Tijana Martin

[email protected]

A few hundred displeased people gathered at Galt Gardens on Saturday as part of a province-wide rally. The event was predominately to oppose the Climate Leadership Implementation Act.

Herald photo by Tijana Martin A few hundred people gathered at Galt Gardens Saturday to participate in a province-wide rally, mainly against the upcoming carbon levy. @TMartinHerald.Dawn Deabis attended the event because she said she’s upset with Rachel Notley and the NDP government.

“We elected her because we needed a change, but we’re all pretty sorry for what we got,” said Deabis.

She said she hopes the government listens to those in attendance. “There’s too many people out of work, there’s going to be more people out of work, everything just needs to be better so I hope the government listens.”

On Friday, Environment Minster Shannon Phillips said the carbon tax will allow the province to invest in innovation and technology and create jobs for cleaner energy. “Keeping those good jobs right here in Alberta, and cleaning up our air and getting rid of dirty coal plants,” she said. “That’s what we are reinvesting that price on pollution in.”

“I don’t believe that,” said Deabis. “They can focus on energy but it’s the oil — we’re an oil province and there’s too many people out of work and we just need to not have the carbon tax,” said Deabis. “I think it will just cause more problems for more business, more people, more money out of my pocket — out of your pocket.”

“Bring back businesses into Alberta, we’ve seen them leave, we need them to come back. The government needs to promote business to stay, not to leave and I’m hoping that’s what they’ll do,” Deabis added.

Paul Hinman, former MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner and original leader of the Wildrose party, was a speaker at the event as he covered for Grant Hunter who was home ill.

“I was in the legislature many times when Rachel talked about how she was going to be accountable, how she’d go and listen to the people and how we need to be representing the people,” said Hinman. “I think that if you actually went doorto-door and asked people, an overwhelming number of Albertans understand that this is just another big government push to tax people more or to tax industries and it’s a political agenda.”

A $20-per-tonne carbon levy will come into effect on Jan. 1. The levy targets more than 20 types of fuel which produce greenhouse gas emissions when combusted. The Alberta government states every penny raised through the levy will be reinvested into the province to reduce our carbon footprint by making investments in energy efficiency for homeowners and small business owners.

And most Albertans, approximately 66 per cent of households, will receive a full or partial rebate. Individuals who make $47,000 a year or less and couples or families who make under $95,000 will qualify for the rebate.

But Hinman doesn’t feel this is the time to implement a new levy.

“We’re an economic basket case — we’re struggling. Do not impose a tax, this is like having someone that’s weak and barely able to move and say ‘you know what, we need you to carry 10 more pounds and putting a weight on them,” said Hinman. “Our economy cannot handle a carbon tax right now.”

Hinman suggests postponing the levy or putting it to a plebiscite.

“If you really believe you have a mandate from Albertans, then show us that don’t believe that you do with a plebiscite.”

Those in attendance signed a petition which urged the Provincial Legislative Assembly to hold a referendum on the matter, but Hinman said the people must do more.

“The biggest message for people today is signing these petitions are great, but I’ve been in the house when Rachel herself has put many petitions to the table there presented to the government and government carries on,” said Hinman. “What we need to do is we need to start a movement of phoning, emailing and sending letters to the premier’s office, to Shannon Phillip’s office, to the energy minister’s office, finance minster’s office and absolutely bombarding them with an overwhelming number of people calling them and say ‘please postpone the carbon tax.’”

More information on the Climate Leadership Implementation Act can be found at publica tions/tax_rebates/faqs_carbonlevy. Follow @TMartinHerald on Twitter


Opposition leader slams carbon tax – Brian Jean says it will make economy worse

6 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Alberta’s Opposition leader told hundreds of people at a rally against a planned carbon tax that the province’s oil belongs to them. Brian Jean stressed that no one at Saturday’s rally at the legislature was blaming Notley for low energy prices that have hurt Alberta’s economy.

But Brian Jean says Notley’s carbon tax is going to make things worse.

Other rallies were held at the same time in other Alberta cities, and organizers circulated a petition calling for the government to hold a referendum on the carbon tax.

Tracy Leite, who spoke at the rally, said the business she and her husband started together has been forced to lay people off.

Leite says Notley wouldn’t understand unless she had to sit across from someone and tell them they were losing their job.

“Not every business owner is a highly-paid executive. I’m hanging on by a fingernail,” Leite told the crowd.

On Jan. 1, a new carbon tax kicks in, which will increase prices at the gas pumps and on heating bills. There will be full or partial rebates for lowand middle-income Albertans.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips also introduced Bill 25 in the legislature Tuesday that, if passed, will forbid oilsands industries from collectively emitting more than 100 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year. The bill is part of a multi-faceted plan being introduced in stages by Notley’s government to reduce the effects of climate change and to remake Alberta’s energy infrastructure into one that relies more on renewables such as wind, solar and hydro power.

Some people at the Edmonton rally questioned whether climate change was really a problem. Others acknowledged it, but said a carbon tax would only kick Alberta when it’s already down and wouldn’t stop carbon emitters like the U.S. and China.

Alicia Drader, a journeyman electrician who attended the rally, said green investment is a good thing, but said it won’t change things overnight. In the meantime, he said hasn’t worked since January and his EI benefits will run out in four weeks.

“It’s very stressing to not know what’s next, to now know what to do next.

“When you’ve exhausted sending out 200 resumes and you get a few phone calls and a handful of job interviews and then you end up having maybe 500 people going for two positions, it’s very challenging to get working,” Drader said.

“There’s a lot of people struggling.”

Jean told the crowd that Alberta’s oil is being “mishandled.”

He rejected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent announcement that all provinces will need to set a baseline price for carbon by 2018, saying it’s potentially unconstitutional because it challenges the province’s right to manage its own natural resources.

“Our oil, our natural resources belong to us.

“They do not belong to Rachel Notley. They do not belong to Trudeau. They belong to the people of Alberta,” Jean told the crowd.



7 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald

J.W. Schnarr
[email protected]

Following an open house at the end of October, the Village of Stirling is looking for ways the community can benefit from a large wind farm project currently being considered near the community.

During their regular meeting on Nov. 2, Stirling council discussed the results of an Oct. 26 open house on the proposed wind farm, and how the village could work with GreenGate Power.

“In my mind, it’s us being proactive,” said Mayor Ben Nilsson.

“I think there’s a great opportunity for us to do something here.”

Coun. Trevor Lewington said council could provide conditional support for the project and could use that support to encourage GreenGate to address issues put forward by area residents and to consider providing opportunities to the community.

Among the issues the village is looking to address is traffic management, environmental safety concerns, purchasing and procurement from local services, local employment opportunities, emergency response training and plans, and opportunities for ongoing social investment.

The project began development in 2007 and plans include about 17,000 acres of land located five kilometres northeast of Stirling on privately owned cultivated land.

The project will be about 133 megawatts in size and could begin construction in 2018. It could involve the construction of 46 wind turbines, an electrical collection system, access roads, and a new wind collector substation, called the Red Coat Substation.

On Friday, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said there are more opportunities for municipalities to be part of large-scale energy projects.

“We’ve seen this approach from wind developers in particular, and other renewables developers ensuring community benefits,” she said. “Certainly around Vulcan and Carmangay, we’ve seen those kinds of arrangements. It’s great that the municipalities are looking at ways to ensure local employment and local economic benefits.”

She said she expects to see more of that growth in the future.

“Southern Alberta is the birthplace of Canadian wind energy industry,” she said. “We’ve already got many success stories of places that have raised their municipal tax base, and certainly benefitted from having that kind of energy in their communities.

“We have a number of advocates here in southern Alberta who are pleased to welcome that kind of opportunity.”

“I think, as we move forward with an expansion of renewables, there’s going to be more down here in southern Alberta, but more across the province as well,” she said. “We will find that there will be many more of these arrangements, whether it is local training, local hiring, or even some of the assembly and manufacturing opportunities.”



4 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Jordan Press


Any new spending measures being pitched for the federal budget will have to demonstrate potential to help grow the economy if they expect to find favour with the Liberal government, Canada’s finance minister says.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Bill Morneau said that as he crafts his second budget as finance minister, the economic-growth test is the first of multiple screens he is using to ensure debt levels don’t spiral out of control.

Too late, the opposition parties might jeer.

The Liberals used up a lot of their fiscal wiggle room this week with a fall economic update that included $32 billion in infrastructure spending over the next 11 years, accompanied by an equivalent amount of red ink on the federal books.

The document also warned the federal balance sheet would stay in the red even longer than the Liberals first promised — a total of $114.9 billion in deficits between 2016-17 and 2020-21, up from the $83.2 billion outlined in the last budget.

Nor have the Liberals said when they expect to see the budget back in balance, instead choosing to hold to a decidedly less sexy measure of ongoing fiscal prudence: the ratio of debt to gross domestic product.

In order for that figure to remain on a downward trajectory, the economy must grow at a faster rate than the debt, Morneau explained.

“That means that we’ve got to be thinking about all of our investment decisions in the context of how they enable us to grow the economy,” Morneau said. “That will be my screen as we think about Budget 2017 and beyond: How we can grow the economy and be fiscally prudent? Certainly it will present a challenge, but we believe that with this plan we can make a real impact on Canadian families.”

Building a budget involves complex tradeoffs between doing things that have to be done for short- and medium-term growth and those measures that may have to wait for another budget cycle, he added.

“Is there a way to do more with less? Is there a way to consider being more cost-effective against every initiative? That’s my ongoing approach to dealing with the things I’m hearing from Canadians and the things I’m hearing from my colleagues.”

In doubling down on an infrastructure program that was originally pegged at $60 billion over 10 years but now totals nearly $100 billion, the Liberals are hoping that program can spur growth and jobs, creating the tax base needed to help balance the budget.

Some of those changes won’t be felt right away — spending infrastructure money takes time and only leaves the federal treasury once project proponents submit receipts to show that work has progressed — and Morneau suggested that Canadians won’t see the effects of the long-term plan in the fiscal update for several years.

But the government believes its changes to tax rates for so-called middle-income earners, along with a new income-tested child benefit and short-term infrastructure spending, will create or maintain 100,000 jobs over the next two years, Morneau said — even though the parliamentary budget watchdog has cast doubt on the figure.



4 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Rachael Harder

Canada was just ranked the top destination of the year by Lonely Planet’s 2017 travel guide. This ranking is based on Canada’s diversity. From the majestic beauty of the Niagara Falls, to the still beauty of Banff and Churchill, the old European architecture of Quebec City and Montreal, to the quaint fishermen’s community of Peggy’s Cove; Canada offers vibrancy, innovation and a warm welcome to all who visit.

Canada’s natural landscape and vast greenspace make our country unique. I am proud to be able to represent this beautiful nation. In order to maintain Canada’s beauty, however, we must be respectful towards the landscape we have. To preserve the elegance of Canada, maintenance of national parks and national historic sites is necessary.

Under our former Conservative government, we established climate targets for Canada. These targets would help us to preserve Canada’s natural beauty. Ironically, they were consistently attacked by the Liberals who have since adopted these same climate target goals. However, the Liberals have added something on top of them: a carbon tax.

A carbon tax places a price on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated from burning fuel. It puts a price on each tonne of GHG emitted and is then taxed accordingly. Prime Minister Trudeau recently announced that the Liberal government would impose a “floor price” of $10 per tonne in 2018, rising to $50 a tonne by 2022.

The purpose of taxing these emissions is to increase the cost of using fossil fuels to encourage businesses and families to switch to alternative energy sources. This works better in theory than in reality. Imposing a carbon tax does not put a limit on the amount of emissions that can be released. A manufacturing company can continue releasing the same amount of emissions they do now; the only difference is that businesses will now be taxed for it — and those increased costs will be passed to you, the consumer, in the form of higher prices.

Provinces will not release fewer emissions than they did previously, as most people don’t have a choice if they drive a pickup truck or heat their home with natural gas. However, under the Liberal carbon tax, the residents of the province will have to somehow pay for it. Because of the carbon tax, every product you purchase and every household bill you pay will go up in cost.

To put this in perspective, in British Columbia there is a provincial carbon tax. This tax places a $30 per tonne price on carbon, adding 6.67 cents per litre at the gas pump. It makes B.C. the second most expensive province for gas prices in all of Canada, just behind Newfoundland and Labrador. In Alberta, if a carbon tax is fully implemented in 2018, gas prices will be roughly the same as in B.C. With the Liberal goal of $50 per tonne by 2022, gas prices will increase by at least 11 cents per litre.

A carbon tax will also mean significant increases to the price of heating your home. In Alberta, where we heat most of our houses using natural gas, under the carbon tax, there will be an increased tax of $1.50 a gigajoule. Although it may not seem significant at first, after one cold winter the difference will be alarming. It has been estimated that if this carbon tax is imposed on Canada, Alberta will be the most affected by the rise of electricity costs.

This increase in natural gas and electricity will also affect businesses, meaning the prices of non-energy products are also likely to increase. This, of course, directly affects households as they will be forced to spend more on everyday items like groceries and transportation.

Overall, it is estimated that with a $50 per tonne carbon tax, the average Canadian household will end up paying $600 per year. This amount will go up if you drive your own vehicle instead of taking public transit or if you own your own house instead of a condo. With the prices of everyday living already increasing, the carbon tax will have a detrimental impact on household budgets. With instability in the housing market and job loss on the rise, the last thing Canadians need from their government is another tax.

This carbon tax is the wrong approach to reaching climate targets and stimulating the economy. Forcing provinces to adopt a carbon tax is not in the best interest of Canadians — or Canada’s climate. Canadians will not stop purchasing groceries that were shipped to their local supermarket, quit heating their homes, or stop driving to work (especially in a place like Lethbridge). Therefore, carbon will still be released into the environment at the same rate it is now. The only difference the carbon tax will make is impose greater financial burden on families and kill jobs.

I know we are all tough Albertans who can brave the coldest of winters, but there does come a time when turning on the heat is nice. I for one do not want to pay extra tax for choosing not to be a human icicle, and as your Member of Parliament, I don’t think you should either.


PALLISER – 21 recommendations presented to board

4 Nov 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter


Citing a “culture and climate that is not psychologically healthy for employees,” an organizational review of Palliser Regional Schools has come back with 21 recommendations to improve the division.

Herald photo by Ian Martens Palliser Regional Schools board chair Robert Strauss, flanked by acting superintendent Garry Andrews and alternate vice-chair Craig Whitehead, speaks during a special meeting after the release of an organizational review Thursday at the division offices. @IMartensHeraldA special meeting held Thursday by the PRS Board of Trustees to hear the results of the review was attended by a full house of concerned parents and former employees of the division.

Robert Strauss, PRS board chair, said because the board received the recommendations at the same time the public did, it would now be looking deeper into the review in order to see where changes to the division could be made.

“The board is going to treat this report with the utmost seriousness,” he said. “We’ll spend the requisite amount of time to review the documents in great detail.”

The panel gathered information from stakeholders in the division that included a survey of the psychological safety climate within PRS; semistructured interviews with current and former employees, trustees and other stakeholders; documentary submissions from stakeholders; and data and documents requested from PRS. Recommendations included the division creating a plan to deal with aggression and fear in the workplace felt by many employees; clarifying the roles of the board and superintendent; identify and deal with a lack of trust of the board; the board must take ownership of the superintendent evaluation process; manage concerns with procedural fairness; develop a transparent conflict resolution process; improve communication at all levels of the division; develop an off-duty conduct policy; transparency in their electronic monitoring policy; develop a policy that clarifies when alcohol should and should not be purchased; and to develop a communications policy in order to keep the public informed.

As the full review is more than 200 pages long, Strauss could not give a timeline on any decisions that might come out of it.

“We will take as much time as we need to do a thorough job and do it right,” he said, adding it would be unlikely the review would be dealt with in the next board meeting.

“During the course of upcoming weeks and months, we’ll have an opportunity to address this report.”

He said the division has many positive traits, and the board will look at the recommendations as an opportunity to improve areas that are lacking.

“We also heard today this division has a lot of positives in it,” he said. “We have a lot of things we need to look at for improvement. And we welcome that challenge.”

Strauss described the division as a partnership between staff, parents and students, and said the board welcomes the opportunity to work with those groups.

“I was very appreciative for the interest that the parents and the public have shown,” he said.

“This is part of our commitment to work with the people in our system, and to work with the public to create a better system. It’s my intent to work with the stakeholders to ensure we do get better.”

The executive summary is available online at

Area MLA hearing plenty of concerns

16 Oct 2016

Lethbridge Herald



Grant Hunter, MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner, has been hearing the concerns from his constituents.

Wildrose MLA Hunter held meetings at the beginning of September in Cardston, Warner, Milk River, Coutts, Magrath and Raymond to hear what the public’s concerns are, so he can bring them to the Legislature.

The meetings went well, says Hunter and he was interested to hear the different concerns of the people.

A lot of people were asking him questions about the carbon tax, the implications of increasing minimum wage and how it’s going to affect their businesses.

As well, some of the seniors were asking about the new Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program (SHARP).

“It was actually … very good to be able to meet with the constituents and get some feedback on them from what they feel is going on,” adds Hunter.

Hunter says he likes to hold these meetings in most of the different communities within his constituency every six to eight months or so.

He wants to keep up to date with what the people in his constituency want to see happen as well as their specific concerns.

When it comes to the SHARP program, Hunter says he talks to the seniors about how they can qualify for that and if they might qualify and he talks to the seniors about the program and its benefits.

He adds probably nine out of 10 people he spoke with said the Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives should unite, so Hunter says it is interesting that high of a number of people said they need to get together with the PC party.

At some of the meetings there were only a couple of people while others had better attendance. All of the meetings were done on a drop-in basis.

This month, Hunter says they are going back to the Legislature to discuss the revisions to the Municipal Government Act coming out, which is Bill 21.

“We’ve heard some good information from the reeves and mayors … at the reeves and mayors meeting that we have and so they’ve given us … ideas about maybe some amendments that should be brought forward,” he adds.


Prentice a great politician and family man

15 Oct 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Dave Mabell [email protected]

Shocked by his sudden death, political leaders spoke out Friday in tribute to former Alberta premier Jim Prentice. Retired from politics since the Progressive Conservatives lost power in May 2015, Prentice was one of four people killed when a small aircraft crashed Thursday near Kelowna.

“For Alberta, today is a day of sorrow in the face of terrible tragedy,” said Premier Rachel Notley.

“He served our province in so many roles for so many years. He deeply loved Alberta. He worked tirelessly for all of us, in the true spirit of one who is committed to public service,” she said.

“I benefited from his advice, and the government of Alberta is continuing to pursue many of his initiatives. All Albertans are the better for this.” Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge West, paid tribute to Prentice’s work on environmental issues while serving in the federal cabinet.

“I did not know him personally, but I see the echoes of his work on the environment,” she said, particularly with regard to oilsands monitoring.

As a Calgary MP, Prentice filled several roles in Stephen Harper’s federal cabinet including minister of the environment.

Phillips, now Alberta’s environment minister, said she’s learned more about his efforts from other government officials who worked with him.

The minister was scheduled to address members of the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce during their “Opportunity South” conference Friday. Out of respect, Notley and her cabinet members cancelled appearances for the day.

Lethbridge East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick praised Prentice’s spirit of public service.

“Anyone who has put themself out for public service the way Mr. Prentice did deserves every accolade anyone can give,” she said. “He served both his province and Canada well.”

Mayor Chris Spearman voiced city council’s sorrow at the former premier’s death.

“The sudden passing of Mr. Prentice is a shocking and tragic loss,” he said. “My heart goes out to his wife Karen and the entire Prentice family.

“Mr. Prentice was a dedicated public servant who enriched our province with his leadership and passion.”

The mayor ordered flags be lowered to half-mast at city hall and other civic locations.

Former Lethbridge East MLA and city council member Bridget Pastoor praised Prentice’s contributions as the nation’s aboriginal affairs minister.

“The work he did with First Nations was exemplary,” she said. “His heart was in it, and he knew what he was doing.”

Prentice was a political leader with integrity, Pastoor said, and “You probably couldn’t find a nicer gentleman.

“He served Canada very well, and devoted his life to public service.”

Greg Weadick, MLA for Lethbridge West and a cabinet minister under several Progressive Conservative premiers, described Prentice as “very hard-working MP, MLA and premier.”

Part of that work, he said, was finding ways to support First Nations in southern Alberta and elsewhere in their economic development initiatives. When Prentice served as environment minister, Weadick added, he attempted to balance the needs to safeguard Canada’s environmental values while recognizing the importance of resource-based employment.

At the same time, Weadick said, Prentice was “very dedicated to his wife and family.”

Follow @DMabellHerald on Twitter


Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice among 4 killed in B.C. plane crash

 Twin-engine Cessna en route to Calgary area disappeared from radar shortly after leaving Kelowna on Thursday

By Robson Fletcher, CBC News Posted: Oct 14, 2016 10:49 AM MTLast Updated: Oct 14, 2016 6:05 PM MT

During the 2015 Alberta election campaign, Jim Prentice included a stop at Al's Pizza in Calgary. Prentice served as premier from 2014-2015 before a resounding defeat to the NDP. On Oct. 14, 2016, it was announced Prentice had died in a small-plane crash the night before, along with three others.

During the 2015 Alberta election campaign, Jim Prentice included a stop at Al’s Pizza in Calgary. Prentice served as premier from 2014-2015 before a resounding defeat to the NDP. On Oct. 14, 2016, it was announced Prentice had died in a small-plane crash the night before, along with three others. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

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Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice was among the four people killed in a small-plane crash in British Columbia on Thursday night.

Prentice, 60, was aboard a twin-engine Cessna Citation that disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff from Kelowna, en route to the Springbank Airport, just outside Calgary.

Bill Yearwood with the Transportation Safety Board confirmed Friday that the plane’s wreckage was found in Lake Country, B.C., just north of Kelowna, and described the crash as “unsurvivable.”

“The aircraft is destroyed; all persons on board lost their lives,” Yearwood said.

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Aerial footage of B.C. plane crash

Also killed in the crash was Ken Gellatly, the father-in-law of Prentice’s daughter Cassia.

The Prentice family issued a statement Friday, saying the loss of two family members at once is “unbelievably painful.”

“Words cannot begin to express our profound shock and heartbreak,” the statement reads.

The plane is owned by Calgary-based Norjet Inc. The company stated it will co-operate with the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation.

“Norjet lost friends in the tragic crash near Kelowna and we are struggling to cope with that loss,” according to the press release.

Prentice became Alberta premier in September 2014 when he won the leadership of Progressive Conservative Party.

In February 2015, Prentice discussed the challenges facing his province and the country at large in the wake of plunging oil prices in an extended interview with Peter Mansbridge.

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Mansbridge One on One: Jim Prentice

In May 2015, the PCs were handed their first electoral defeat in nearly half a century, at the hands of the Alberta NDP, and Prentice resigned as both party leader and member of the legislature.

Before becoming premier, he served as vice-chair and senior executive vice-president with CIBC from 2010 to 2014.

Prentice also had a career in federal politics. He served as MP for Calgary Centre-North from 2004 to 2010, with stints as industry minister, environment minister and minister of Indian affairs and northern development in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

‘He really cared deeply about the people he served, and he was always devoted to their best interests.’ – Joe Oliver, former Conservative finance minister

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was among those offering their condolences Friday.

“There are no words adequate for moments like this, as my family knows very well,” said Notley, whose own father died in a plane crash on Oct. 19, 1984.

“[Prentice] worked tirelessly for all of us, in the true spirit of one who is committed to public service. I benefited from his advice, and the government of Alberta is continuing to pursue many of his initiatives. All Albertans are the better for this,” she said in a statement.

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford described Prentice as an “icon” —  a thoughtful man who looked to the long term and successfully brought people together to deal with difficult issues.

As a young lawyer, Redford articled for Prentice. Both shared an interest in politics.

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A timeline of Jim Prentice’s leadership in Alberta politics

“The work that we were doing at the time was around the development of the Oldman River Dam in southern Alberta,” she said. “I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him in southern Alberta meeting ranchers and meeting First Nations leaders. That connection to land and environment was something that was always important to him, and something I think touched everything he did in his life.”

Former Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver described Prentice as a passionate and skilled public servant who got into politics for all the right reasons.

“He really cared deeply about the people he served, and he was always devoted to their best interests,” Oliver said.

“He was never pompous. He was always a straight shooter, someone whose integrity and good judgment you could always rely on.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed a similar sentiment.

“In politics, I get to work with people from all political stripes who are filled with a desire to do good no matter what. I also get to work with people who are thoughtful, respectful and driven by a need improve this community we all share,” he said.

“Jim was all of these things, and so much more. He is an inspiration to all of us who aspire to public service.”

Manmeet Bhullar Memorial 20151129

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and former Alberta premier Jim Prentice embrace during a memorial service for Alberta member of the legislature Manmeet Bhullar, who was killed in a car crash in November 2015. On Friday, Nenshi reacted to the death of Prentice by saying: ‘He is an inspiration to all of us who aspire to public service.’ (Mike Ridewood/Canadian Press)

Nenshi recalled Prentice’s connection with Alberta member of the legislature Manmeet Bhullar, who was killed in a car crash in November 2015.

“When the Sikh community was struggling to set itself up in Calgary and trying to build the first gurdwara in this city, they faced a lot of opposition from a community that didn’t know much about their faith,” Nenshi said.

“They were represented by an idealistic young lawyer who fought for respect, acceptance and diversity. That lawyer was named Jim Prentice.”

‘Strong voice for the people,’ PM says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described Prentice as a skilled politician and said he will “profoundly” miss him, despite their political differences in the past.

“Jim was a man who brought his deep convictions to everything he turned his hand to, whether it was law, business or politics,” Trudeau said.

“At each step of his career, Jim was a strong voice for the people of Alberta and for the people of Canada. He was highly respected and well-liked in the House of Commons across all party lines, because he brought an intelligent, honest and straightforward approach to everything he did.”

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose praised Prentice for his devotion to the party and public service and said he had much to be proud of in his political career, although that was just one aspect of his life.

“He was most proud of being a good husband, a good father and a very proud new grandfather,” she said.

Passion for politics

This June, Prentice became an energy adviser with Warburg Pincus, an international private equity firm, but politics was always a passion of his.

He started working for federal and provincial parties at age 20, mostly in backrooms, before stepping into the spotlight himself later in life.

Apart from one failed run for provincial office in 1986, he said he had an agreement with his wife, Karen, to wait until their three children were grown before venturing into the rigours of elected life.

But long before he would hold political office, Prentice was a boy who grew up “under the bins” of a coal mine.

Prentice, as a university student, worked seven summers underground in choking dust and heat amid deafening machinery.

Ontario roots

Prentice was born on July 20, 1956, in South Porcupine in northern Ontario.

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Robin Campbell talks about losing friend Jim Prentice

His dad, Eric Prentice, was a gold miner and former pro hockey player, a 17-year-old whiz-kid winger and the youngest player ever signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a career minor leaguer, but had a minor stint in the big leagues — playing five games with Toronto in 1943.

As the gold mine dwindled, Eric Prentice picked up his family in 1969 and moved to a new coal mine in Grande Cache, Alta., when Jim was 13, and eventually to the mines farther south in the Crowsnest Pass.

Jim Prentice became a top-flight winger in his own right, but his promising junior hockey career ended with a devastating knee-on-knee hit.

From then on, he focused on university, graduating with a law degree before working in Alberta as an entrepreneur and a lawyer dealing mainly with land and property rights.

Conservative reunification

After his failed 1986 bid for provincial office, Prentice wouldn’t take a political run again until 2002, when he earned the PC nomination in Calgary Southwest, but later withdrew as a byelection candidate.

The federal conservative movement was in turmoil at the time, fractured between the PCs and the Canadian Alliance.

Prentice urged reunification and stepped aside so that Alliance leader Stephen Harper could run unopposed to represent the centre-right.

In 2004, at age 47, he won the Calgary riding for the newly merged Conservative Party.

In 2006, Harper won a minority government and Prentice was in cabinet. Over the following six-plus years, he was given high marks for his work in diverse portfolios — in the ministries of Indian and northern affairs, industry, and environment.

But the defining moment, he said, came before his cabinet days, when the Conservatives were still the Opposition in 2005.

Prentice decided to vote for a controversial Liberal bill endorsing same-sex marriage.

With files from The Canadian Press


Energy East setback a sign of flawed process

30 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Delays caused by the replacement of a panel reviewing the Energy East Pipeline project show that Canada’s regulatory system is flawed and must be fixed, says a former CEO of proponent TransCanada.

Hal Kvisle said Thursday the recusal of a National Energy Board panel in early September just after hearings on the controversial project began was a victory for activists whose only objective is to block the process.

“I think it’s another failure of (the) regulatory process in Canada that we can’t even commence a regulatory process without it coming off the rails,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“It’s regrettable. I’ve been making the point to the government of Canada for about 12 or 13 years there needs to be significant improvements in the regulatory process and here we’ve just had it thrown in the ditch again by people whose objective is really just to stop the whole thing.”

The NEB’s review broke down after hearings in Montreal were disrupted by protesters. Critics charged the panel was biased after learning that two of three panellists met last year with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, then a consultant for TransCanada.


NDP says Alberta will have 30 per cent renewable power by 2030 but questions loom

Alberta’s NDP government says it’s committed to having 30 per cent of the province’s electricity supply come from renewables by 2030, but opposition parties are taking aim at what they say is a vague plan that could leave taxpayers on the hook.

The NDP’s climate change strategy, released last fall, set a target of 30 per cent power from sources such as wind, solar and hydro to accompany the plan’s accelerated phase-out of coal power by 2030.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says that target is now “firm” and the province will support the creation of an additional 5,000 megawatts of renewable power that will bring in at least $10.5 billion in investment.

“Alberta will lead forward, not go backwards,” she told reporters Wednesday after speaking at the Alberta Power Symposium at the Telus Convention Centre.

But details on how the province will reach its target — and the financial cost to the province — remain sketchy.

The province’s climate change panel called for an auction system where producers will bid for contracts that will include government support for the development of new renewable capacity.

The government’s website says that $3.4 billion out of the nearly $10 billion expected to be collected from the incoming broad-based carbon tax over the next five years will go toward “large scale renewable energy, bioenergy and technology.”

But Phillips said the province can’t yet put a price tag on how much it will spend to subsidize renewable development.

And while there will be an auction system, how it will function is still being developed by the Alberta Electrical System Operator, which will oversee the program.

“There are many different ways to structure renewable procurement,” said Phillips.

“We are currently examining how that looks in Alberta so that we get the least-cost procurement. What we know about renewables is they lower the price for consumers.”

About half of Alberta’s power came from coal-fired plants in 2015. Alberta Energy estimates that as of June, about 39 per cent of the provincial capacity of 16,300 MW came from coal and 44 per cent from natural gas. Phillips said Alberta expects about 70 per cent in 2030 will be generated by natural gas.

Patrick Bateman of the Canadian Solar Industries Association said he anticipates the cost to the province will ultimately be low because of the competitive bidding process.

But he said there needs to be revenue certainty for potential producers, perhaps through mechanisms such as contracts that would see the province top up revenue if it dropped below a certain level, for projects to go ahead.

“We’ve got a situation where investment in any generation technology is a challenging prospect … for any new generation we’re going to need to see the new policy certainty the minister has been describing today,” he told reporters.

Proponents say that wind projects that would produce about 6,800 megawatts and solar projects responsible for 600 megawatts are already being proposed for development in Alberta.

“We’re not looking at getting government subsidies necessarily for all of these 7,000 megawatts in the queue to come online,” said Evan Wilson, regional director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

“It’s waiting to see what the system is going to look like, waiting to see what the policy will look like and how that will shape the market moving forward.”

While the government’s announcement was hailed by companies such as TransAlta, it was met with skepticism by opposition parties.

In a news release, the Wildrose Party said the NDP should release the full economic costing of its plan, including the impact of the early shut down of coal-fired power plants and the increase in natural gas generation.

“Today’s announcement doesn’t provide any more certainty for Albertans,” said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. “The minister should release her government’s own internal analysis today.”

The Progressive Conservatives questioned how the government expects to attract private sector investment after launching a legal battle with three power companies over their relinquishment of power purchase arrangments for coal-fired electricity.

Liberal Leader David Swann said he supported the government’s initiative but said the NDP had left Albertans in the dark over its plan.

“Until we know how it’s going to work, all those investment dollars are going to be on the sideline,” added Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark.

In an updated report Wednesday, the Pembina Institute estimated that an accelerated phase-out of coal generation in Alberta could result in 600 fewer premature deaths, 500 fewer emergency room visits and save nearly $3 billion in socio-economic value of avoided health outcomes linked to coal pollution between 2015 and 2035.

— With files from The Canadian Press

[email protected]


Twin Butte area rancher’s solar insight

Pincher Creek Voice

Monday, September 19, 2016

Quentin Stevick

Quentin Stevick / Oldman Watershed Council blog – When I heard that our provincial government was interested in Green Energy, Anne and I got all excited. I have been using portable solar powered water systems since about 2002 to pump water from surface locations to our cattle to provide them with clean, fresh water and to prevent pollution of water bodies by these same livestock. I have learned many things: one of which is “Energy free does not mean labour and maintenance free”.

I felt the next step would be solar power for our ranch. The following information is current to mid April 201

I have a quote from a local contractor to install a 10.4 kW grid tied, roof mounted array of 40 X 260 watt solar panels. I already have an East-West orientated building which would be ideal for the project. The quote to me is $32,800.00 plus GST.

The most recent power bills I have are the complete year Dec. 15/2014 to Dec. 15/2015. Our total bill was $2823.84. We used a total 11,307 kW for this year. The actual power cost was $904.56 or approximately 32% of the bill. Anne gave me a link to Growing Forward 2 and I contacted Kelly Lunn and received the following reply. “Any electricity exported from a Micro Generator will only be used to credit against the electricity consumption at the meter; none will be applied to distribution (line) charges. Any electricity that you produce that you can use for farm loads at the time it is produced will reduce imported electricity, so will reduce the (relatively small) variable portion of Transmission and Distribution”. As of May 23/2016 Growing Forward 2 is not accepting applications.

My take-away is this:

When we were in Germany visiting one of my former students at her farm near Fulda, she was constructing a new barn and installing solar panels on it. The program available to her would generate approximately 12% return on investment.

I believe the following:

  1. The electricity providers should be required to accept enough electricity on an annual basis to off set total charges (in our case about $2900/year) not just the approximate $900 under the current regulations.
  2. A cap should be placed on the maximum power that could be generated so we do not have solar “farms” created that would cause the same blight on our landscape the wind farms create with their large foot print which fragments the land with roads and transmission lines.
  3. Individual houses and apartment buildings should be allowed the same advantages and access to the grid as farms so we can lower the reliance on fossil fuels.

The Alberta government is seeking public input on the new Energy Efficiency Alberta agency. Stakeholders, Indigenous communities and interested Albertans are being asked how to best promote energy efficiency and community energy systems across Alberta. An open house was recently hosted in Lethbridge where you could speak to panel members and technical experts. We encourage you to participate in the Energy Efficiency Alberta consultation before September 30, 2016.  Click here to share your thoughts and ideas. Click 

Editor’s note: Quentin Stevick is also the councillor for MD of Pincher Creek No. 9 Division 1.

Alberta gov’t. targeting for 30 per cent green power by 2030

15 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald

J.W. Schnarr

[email protected]


Alberta’s provincial government is shooting for 30 by 30 when it comes to green power generation.

On Wednesday, Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s minister of environment and parks, announced the government’s firm target of 30 per cent of electricity used in the province set to come from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, and solar, by 2030. The other 70 per cent would come from natural gas after the complete phase out of coal-fired generation.

“We solve problems,” Phillips said. “We don’t run away from them. Tackling climate change is no different. Alberta will lead forward and not go backwards.”

Details of the plan are still being worked out and are expected in the coming months. Phillips called energy production “the backbone” of modern economies.

“Going forward, the success of the electricity industry will also be increasingly judged on its ability to thrive and support a carbon-competitive economy,” she said.

In order to facilitate this goal, the government is intending to support 5,000 megawatts of additional renewable energy capacity for Albertans through the Climate Leadership Plan.

That plan states the government intends to collect $9.6 billion over the next five years through the carbon levy, with $3.4 billion tagged for largescale renewable energy, bioenergy and technology projects.

An estimated $10.5 billion in new investment is expected to flow into the provincial economy by 2030, according to a government news release. This will mean at least 7,200 new jobs for Albertans as projects are built.

Projects would be awarded by “competitive procurement,” or a bidding process, the details of which are expected in November.

Phillips said there are a number of ways the government may encourage more development of renewable energy generation, and that further details will be rolled out in the coming months.

“We have several thousand megawatts that are in the regulatory queue, both solar and wind,” she said. “There have been some hydro projects discussed as well. So we know the appetite for investment in this province among renewable players is significant.” The province’s Renewable Electricity Program will be a way to solicit investment in Alberta’s electricity system to meet the target, while ensuring projects come online in a way that does not impact grid reliability and is cost-effective. The program will be run by the AESO.

To be eligible, a project must be based in Alberta, be new or expanded, be five megawatts or greater in size, and meet the Natural Resources Canada definition of renewable sources.

The program will be based on recommendations provided to government by the AESO. The government is also looking at the rules surrounding small-scale and micro-generation.

Phillips said coal-fire power generation costs the province millions in health-care dollars and contributes to lost lives.

“Coal emissions have a very human and environmental cost,” she said.

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter


Large yield expected from sugar beet harvest

15 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald

J.W. Schnarr

[email protected]

The annual sugar beet harvest is about to get underway, and with it a reminder for local residents to keep an eye out for the hauling trucks that will soon be hitting southern Alberta roads.

More than 200 local farmers will defoliate and harvest about 28,000 acres of beets over the next eight weeks, working around the clock. Piling grounds where the beets are stored are located in Taber, Picture Butte, Vauxhall, Tempest, Enchant, Coaldale and Burdett.

There is a limited amount of time to get beets out of the ground and to the processing plant, meaning trucks will be hauling beets at all hours of the day.

“There are going to be trucks on the road at 2 a.m., 4 a.m., and 4 in the afternoon,” said Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.

“So everyone is asked to be mindful of that. Especially in areas where they are piling locations. There are always lineups of the beet trucks getting ready to unload. Everybody is doing their best to get sugar beet harvest off, and we just ask people to be cautious around the trucks.”

This year’s sugar beet harvest is split into two parts. Garner-Skiba said this year the harvest is starting early, with a mini harvest to run from Thursday to Oct. 3. “Our main processor needs some sugar sooner rather than later,” she said. “So we are going to be delivering around 6,000 acres early on in the harvest.”

The main harvest will begin Oct. 3, and run to about the end of October. Beet processing is set to ramp up on Sept. 20 in Taber at the Roger’s Sugar factory.

“They will probably be slicing beats until the end of January,” said Garner-Skiba.

She said the crop appears to a good one this year, in spite of the hail and chaotic weather over the summer. Sugar beet yields are expected to be between 26 to 28 tonnes per acre and over 100 million kilograms of sugar is expected to be extracted from this year’s crop.

Alberta and Ontario are the only remaining provinces still growing sugar beets, and Ontario ships their harvest to Michigan for processing as U.S. sugar.

“Southern Albertans should be extremely proud of the fact that we are home to the only truly Canadian sugar that exists,” Garner-Skiba said. “Not only are sugar beets grown here, but they are refined here.”

Further, she noted the history of southern Alberta agriculture and sugar beets are intertwined, as new Canadians coming to the area were once hired to work the fields. Later, some became landowners themselves.

“This is a long history in southern Alberta that we should all be proud of,” said Garner-Skiba.

She asked local residents to consider supporting local sugar production as the fall baking season begins.

“I would like people to ask themselves if they are buying Alberta sugar,” she said. “Are you buying sugar that is manufactured in Brazil or Mexico? Buy local. Look for that Roger’s sugar, because it is our sugar, beet sugar. It is truly made-in-Alberta sugar.”

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter


Hearings on Energy East pipeline a circus

1 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Demonstrators for and against the Energy East pipeline project were out in force Monday when the National Energy Board opened the Montreal phase of its national hearings on the project. The anti-pipeline crowd, however, not content to make their point out in the street, pushed their way into the hearing room, shoved the security guards aside and broke up the meeting. The energy board members, ill-prepared for the antics of the demonstrators, were driven from the room and the hearing was called off.

The Energy East pipeline, using the path of TransCanada’s existing natural gas pipeline, would pass under the St. Lawrence River near Montreal and then lead to a terminal near St. John, N.B. It would allow for refinement and export of bitumen from the northern Alberta oilsands.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who had been scheduled as the first witness, has been leading the area opposition to TransCanada’s pipeline project, complaining that members of the energy board had previously met privately with Jean Charest, a former Quebec premier and more recently a lobbyist for TransCanada. He wanted this week’s hearing called off because of that. When the energy board tried to hold the hearing anyway, the protesters appeared and broke it up, achieving what Mr. Coderre was not able to do through political manoeuvring. Mr. Coderre walked out of the adjourned hearing, calling it a circus.

Mr. Coderre and his allies turned it into a circus and hurt their messaging. Had they allowed the hearing to proceed, Mr. Coderre’s complaints about the energy board would have been exposed as totally fake. The invasion of the hearing room and cancellation of the hearing spared Mr. Coderre from exposing his complaints to rational study.

In January 2015, National Energy Board chairman Peter Watson and two commissioners met with Quebec representatives from a wide range of groups: municipal associations, chambers of commerce, mayors (including Mr. Coderre) and former premier Charest to seek their advice on how to engage with the province. This was an entirely appropriate step toward ensuring they listened sensitively to all relevant points of view. When these meetings were disclosed by the National Observer news website a month ago, the energy board at first denied Energy East was discussed in the meetings, which was a foolish thing to do. Then the board backed away from its denial, creating an appearance of impropriety.

Board members are perfectly free to meet with advocates of Energy East such as Mr. Charest and opponents of the plan such as Mr. Coderre in order to ensure everyone interested in the subject can get their views before the board in its hearings. How can Mr. Coderre complain about Mr. Charest attending such a meeting when Mr. Coderre himself was also there?

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been urging Canadians to have confidence in their institutions and especially in the National Energy Board. That will be easier to do when the board shows it has the muscle to protect the integrity of its public hearings. The board should overwhelm Mr. Coderre with the facts and reduce him to silence. It should hire enough security guards to ensure the public hearings can in fact happen and the facts of the case can be widely understood.

Rational study may lead to the conclusion that the Energy East pipeline should be built. For that reason, Mr. Coderre and the protesters will do all in their power to prevent rational study from happening. The energy board should be ready for them.

An editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press (distributed by The Canadian Press)


China extends canola deadline

1 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald


China says it will lift a fastapproaching deadline to introduce rule changes on Canadian canola shipments that threatened to inflict damage on the multibillion-dollar sector.

Starting today, the Chinese government had planned to enforce tighter regulations on the amount of foreign materials — such as weeds, other crops and detritus — permitted in canola exports from Canada.

But after a meeting Wednesday in Beijing between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the two countries announced the existing rules would stay in place as they continued to negotiate a long-term solution.

The two sides disagree on the level of foreign material, known as dockage, that should be considered acceptable in Canada’s canola exports to China. The Chinese government wants the contamination cut by more than half.

The canola dispute was expected to dominate the trade agenda during Trudeau’s high-level meetings during his first official visit to China.

“We’re happy to reassure Canadian farmers that (at) the Sept. 1 deadline we will be able to continue with the current regime of canola and we (will) work together very closely towards a longterm solution in the coming days and weeks ahead,” Trudeau said.

Speaking through a translator, Li said both sides have “shown flexibility” on the issue.

He noted that while China itself is a large canola producer, it has no intention to keep its door closed to other exporters. But he said Chinese producers and consumers have concerns that disease could be imported.

“We believe that both sides will be able to make some mutual adjustments with the larger picture of China-Canadian trade and ties in mind,” he said.

National Energy Board cancels first day of Energy East hearings in Montreal after protests

August 29, 2016

MONTREAL — Protesters chanting anti-pipeline slogans forced the cancellation Monday of the first day of hearings in Montreal into TransCanada’s Energy East project.

The head of the hearings for the National Energy Board said the federal regulatory body will try to resume proceedings Tuesday.

“TransCanada will not pass,” screamed one protester as police dragged him away from a downtown conference room.

Police made three arrests. Two men aged 35 and 44 were charged with assaulting a police officer and with obstruction of justice, while a 29-year-old woman was charged with obstruction of justice.

The 35-year-old man remained detained as of early Monday afternoon, while the two others were released.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, along with the mayor of Laval and other municipal representatives, walked out of the hearings not long after the demonstrators charged in.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian PressA demonstrator confronts Montreal mayor Denis Coderre as they disrupt the National Energy Board public hearing into the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project.
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian press

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian pressA demonstrator is taken away by a police officer after disrupting the National Energy Board public hearing into the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project proposed by TransCanada Monday, August 29, 2016 in Montreal.

Coderre was the first person scheduled to give testimony Monday but chose instead to leave, calling the protests a “masquerade.”

He, along with many provincial politicians and First Nations groups, oppose TransCanada’s project to transport crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick.

“There are too many problems we are witnessing to accept the project,” Coderre told reporters after he decided to quit Monday’s hearings.

“We’re saying the project (TransCanada) presented is wrong, it’s bad and we don’t have the answers. And frankly one of the main issues is contingency plans, everything regarding safety.”

Last week Coderre asked for the hearings to be suspended after media reports revealed that two of the three NEB commissioners overseeing the review process met former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was at the time a lobbyist for TransCanada (TSX:TRP).

Coderre said he wasn’t calling for the commissioners to resign, but that there was a perception of bias.

Nonetheless, Coderre said it was important for him to give testimony in order for the NEB and the rest of the country to appreciate the concerns of local citizens.

One of the anti-pipeline protesters, Kristian Gareau, entered the room and started chanting and clapping with the other protesters.

He said the entire NEB process is illegitimate because two of the commissioners had met with Charest.

“There is a perception of bias,” said Gareau, 36. “These two commissioners are part of this democratic institution, which has the sweeping power of a federal court.

“So a judge cannot go and meet with people in a back room. It just shows this smug elite privilege which is completely unacceptable.”

The hearings are set for this week in Montreal before moving to Quebec City the week of Oct. 3.


Concerns raised over NEB panel members

25 Aug 2016

Lethbridge Herald


The National Energy Board says it is accepting written comments on motions calling for two of three people to step down from a panel reviewing the Energy East Pipeline over perceptions of bias.

The move follows revelations, first reported by the National Observer, that panel members Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier met privately with Jean Charest early last year while he was a consultant for TransCanada, the company behind the $15.7-billion Energy East project.

No ‘free ride’: Notley

25 Aug 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Premier fires back at power companies in lawsuit

Premier Rachel Notley says the highstakes court fight over millions — if not billions — of dollars in power contracts is about protecting consumers against entitled power companies seeking “a free ride.” Notley made her first comments about the dispute Wednesday in a speech to Unifor union members at their convention in Ottawa.

“When a group of private companies decided to try to off-load onto the people of Alberta up to $2 billion in losses due to decisions that they made under a privatized system that they asked for, they didn’t get the free ride they would have gotten if the Conservatives were still in government,” Notley said to applause. “Instead, they got themselves a lawsuit. “Because there’s a new government in Alberta now. A new government that is committed to protecting the public to whom it is ultimately, completely accountable.”

Notley’s government launched the lawsuit on July 25 over power purchase arrangements, better known as PPAs. The PPAs form the spine of a deregulated electricity system created under the former Progressive Conservative government of Ralph Klein in 2000 to boost competition and bring in lower prices.

Under the system, power companies buy electricity from generators at auction via the PPAs, then re-sell it to the public with the promise that no matter what happens the generators get a reasonable rate of return.

The power buyers were in turn promised in 2000 they could effectively hand the contracts back if the province enacted changes that made the deals unprofitable or worsened deals that were already unprofitable.

In recent months, the companies have returned or have announced they will return a number of PPAs from coal-fired power plants, which the province says could leave taxpayers on the hook for $2 billion over the next few years.

Other analysts have disputed those figures, saying the hit could be half that or less.

Alberta is moving to end coal-fired electricity by 2030, and the power buyers say recent hikes to carbon fees on large generators have made the money-losing PPAs more unprofitable, triggering the give-back.

The province has fired back in the lawsuit, saying its own arm’s length energy regulator overstepped its authority in 2000 by allowing companies to ditch unprofitable PPAs just because they are more unprofitable.

They are also contesting that market forces and other actions by the companies, not just the carbon fee hikes, have contributed to the red ink in the PPAs.

The case has its first hearing in court in Edmonton on Nov. 2.

The respondents include Capital Power, Enmax and TransCanada.

The companies, in statements, have raised concerns about the court action, particularly that the province is trying to change deals entered into in good faith.

Opposition politicians say Notley’s government has only itself to blame, by making changes to carbon fees without understanding the implications.

They also say the lawsuit sends the more alarming message to investors that, in Alberta, deals with Notley’s government are subject to retroactive repeal.

Braid: While PC Party examines navel, Kenney edges toward victory

It’s political identity theft.

Jason Kenney is becoming the face of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, simply by being out there by himself, fighting for the leadership.

This is bad news for party survivalists. Kenney has never been a centrist Alberta PC. His whole political life has been devoted to the right and the rise of the national Conservatives.

Now, his provincial goal is identical.

The Calgary MP wants to bundle the PCs with Wildrose to form a new conservative party, which he would lead, to win the government, which he would then run as premier.

You’d expect some kind of reaction from the party that won 12 straight elections and ran Alberta for 43 years.

But, no, there’s nothing at all — not even a hint of annoyance from a PC party board that is probably the most progressive since Peter Lougheed’s day.

Does this party have anything left in the tank, just a hint of fighting spirit?

If anything’s there, the PCs don’t have a lot of time to show it.

The board will finalize some leadership rules this weekend. It’s been a complicated job, because this will be a delegate convention to be held next March 18, not a general vote of party members. The PCs haven’t done it that way since 1985.

The formal race will begin Oct. 1. If nobody else declares before then, Kenney will have another five weeks all to himself.

This gives him enormous advantages. He’s left with a clear field to scoop up scarce political donations through his budding SuperPAC, Unite Alberta.

It’s a smart, disruptive strategy reminiscent of Jim Prentice’s takeover of the PC leadership in 2014.

First came the planted rumours, then the early entry and then Prentice’s easy run to the premier’s office.

It was more like Caesar’s march on Rome than a real leadership contest. One reason was that Prentice got that early lock on organizers, volunteers and donations.

The Wildrose reaction to Kenney has been to rally quietly behind Leader Brian Jean, while smiling publicly at the unity idea.

Many Wildrosers would support a merger, of course. But there’s also a hint of the anger Prentice provoked when he stole all those Wildrose MLAs in 2014.

Jean’s party could end up more united, not less. The PCs, with much more at stake, seem almost paralyzed.

The first job is to get a good candidate out there early. There’s a lot of talk about Doug Schweitzer, a young Calgary lawyer who’s little known to the public but has a long political pedigree.

He ran the Manitoba PC party, helped Doug Black’s senatorial campaign and had a key role in the Prentice leadership drive.

The thing that excites some veteran PCs about Schweitzer is that he’s apparently a mesmerizing public speaker, with inspirational qualities to rival those of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

That may or may not be true. I’ve haven’t heard a word from the guy. He’s not ready to talk yet.

Neither are several others who are reported to be kicking tires. While they’re at it, Kenney might steal the vehicle.

He has some problems of his own, however.

Kenney’s use of Unite Alberta to raise money is increasingly controversial. He said it would be a non-profit organization but, technically, it turns out to be a corporation.

Kenney says he won’t use any money raised by Unite Alberta in the formal leadership race after Oct. 1. That’s the law and he’ll surely follow it. Nor is there any intent to make a profit.

But the larger question is whether Unite Alberta later slides over the line and becomes a genuine SuperPac, raising and spending money without limits outside a general election campaign.

Kenney has also annoyed many PCs by saying he won’t leave his federal seat until the Oct. 1 PC kickoff. Quitting one elected job to run for another is always risky, especially when the ambitious politician moves between governments.

But those are niggles. Kenney is already way out in front. He’ll stay there unless the PCs emerge from sleepy hollow.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

[email protected]


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Redford office broke law in data leak

11 Aug 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Alberta’s privacy commissioner says the office of former premier Alison Redford broke the law by using and leaking personal information about cabinet officials.

In August 2014, the cellphone bill of then deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, as well as three other government officials, was leaked to the Edmonton Sun.

It showed Lukaszuk rang up more than $20,000 in international data roaming charges while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012.

At the time, Lukaszuk was vying to become leader of the Progressive Conservative party.

Privacy commissioner Jill Clayton says the documents were disclosed in an uncontrolled manner and contravened the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act.

Clayton says determining who in Redford’s executive council leaked the information was outside the scope of her investigation.

“While it is arguable that the release of information about cellphone charges may have been in the public interest, it was leaked in an uncontrolled manner — nobody’s privacy interests were considered,” Clayton said in a news release Wednesday.

“Government needs to carefully consider its security arrangements for paper records and electronic systems to reduce the risk of another leak of what could possibly be more sensitive information.”

Lukaszuk said he feels vindicated and at least it’s known where the leak came from.

“This speaks to the fact what will happen if you stand up to the premier’s office, and how they will try to use any information they can against you at the most inopportune time knowing that I couldn’t speak to any of it and I still can’t because documents are court-sealed,” Lukaszuk told Edmonton radio station CHED.

At the time the bill was leaked, Lukaszuk said a cabinet minister called him in distress. He said the minister told him violence was involved and police were on the way, so he stayed on the line with the person until officers came.

Braid: Enmax breaks silence on NDP lawsuit, executive who worked for Enron

Don Braid, Calgary Herald

Published on: August 9, 2016 | Last Updated: August 10, 2016 11:02 AM MDT
City-owned Enmax has hunkered down in public silence since the legal assault from the provincial government began.

But with the latest twist — the revelation that a current Enmax executive once negotiated the “Enron clause” for his then-employer — the gloves are off.

“We have done nothing wrong,” communications vice-president Tamera Van Brunt said in an interview Monday.

“Sixteen years ago we bid on a power purchase agreement (PPA) in good faith. So did other buyers in the process. All the bidders knew what they were walking into.”

This contradicts the NDP’s claim that the Enron clause was negotiated illicitly and in secret, outside the knowledge of other companies.

The chief negotiator for Enron was Calgary lawyer Robert Hemstock, who in 2000 was senior director, government and regulatory affairs, for Enron Canada Corporation.
Emails from Hemstock, supplied by the government and published in the Herald, showed him jubilant after advocating successfully “for changes that would mitigate or eliminate many of the risks in the PPAs.”

Hemstock was sent a celebratory email from Enron’s chief lobbyist in the U.S., saying “your work on the Alberta PPA has not gone unnoticed.”

The next year, parent company Enron Corp. was embroiled in a huge U.S. scandal over billions in hidden debt, power price manipulation in California, and accounting practices that masked criminal fraud.

Current Enmax executive Robert Hemstock, shown here as vice-president, regulatory affairs, Direct Energy, in 2004, once negotiated the “Enron clause” for his then-employer with the Alberta government over power purchase arrangements. Leah Hennel / Postmedia

Nobody is saying Hemstock was aware of any of this. People who know him say there’s no chance he was. In 2000, Enron’s interest in the Alberta electricity market was actually considered a prestige thing by the PC government.
Enron Canada later collapsed under the weight of the U.S. uproar. Afterward, Hemstock worked at UBS Warburg Canada and then as vice-president of government and regulatory affairs at Direct Energy.

In 2006, Enmax hired him as executive vice-president of regulatory and legal services. He was in that job until quite recently, when he became special legal counsel to CEO Gianna Manes, a post where he’s still listed as part of the executive team.

Van Brunt says the move has nothing to do with the NDP lawsuit or his background with Enron. He’s working on important legal files, she says, including the government’s lawsuit.

Hemstock won’t speak publicly, she added, also because of the lawsuit.

“Robert Hemstock is an experienced regulatory lawyer, ” she says. “He was doing his part at that time (2000) to ensure that in any agreement the bidders were going into, there was an understanding of what was going to be outlined.”

“It was a clause that all the bidders were aware of. He did his part to put that in place. That affected how we were going to invest . . .”

That suddenly-famous clause, of course, says buyers of PPAs may terminate them if a change in government policy makes them not simply “unprofitable,” but “more unprofitable.”

The latter part triggered the termination by a half dozen companies of agreements to buy coal power, at a potential public cost of $2 billion, according to the NDP.

Van Brunt says Enmax is entirely justified in dumping its PPAs because the financial burden of NDP policy changes was going to be enormous — a $600 million hit over five years.

That would virtually wipe out Enmax profits, which run about $150 million annually, and last year provided a $56 million dividend to the city treasury.

If Enmax is stuck with this liability, it will land on city taxpayers when Enmax inevitably comes to council for more capital.

Enmax puts the blame for its termination of the PPAs squarely on the looming carbon tax, and increases in the levy on heavy emitters.

The annual cost of the original emitters levy was about $15 million a year for Enmax, Van Brunt says. The new policies will raise that to $160 million.

“What’s important to understand is that these carbon levies are not a tweak, these changes in law are a major, major change in law, a tenfold change (for Enmax),” she adds.

The crazy irony is that Enmax is Alberta’s greenest utility, the one you’d think would be an NDP favourite rather than a demon.

Enmax no longer puts a single coal-fired electron into the provincial grid. Eighty-six per cent of generation is fired by natural gas, mostly from the new Shepard generator. The remaining 14 per cent is from renewable sources, including solar and wind.

How the province’s lawsuit helps foster goals like that is beyond understanding. So far, the dispute doesn’t seem to benefit anyone but corporate lawyers.

“Everybody’s lawyering up,” says one, who doesn’t want to be named, for reasons that will be clear from the rest of this quote.

“It’s awesome. Bring it on, Premier Notley. Too many lawyers are sitting around twiddling their thumbs right now.”

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

[email protected]


Alison Redford and her part in Tobaccogate being investigated again

By , Calgary Sun

First posted: | Updated:

The Toryland dynasty is dead but its memory lives on — in another probe of a former PC premier.

Yes, Alison Redford is back in the news. Toryland is once again under the magnifying glass.

Let us be clear. No one has been found guilty of anything but another investigation of alleged wrongdoing begins.

For all of us, it is a flashback to the latter days of PC rule, such as it was. Yes, those not-so-glorious days when almost every week turned up a story with a smell.

It’s Thursday afternoon when we get our hands on a letter from Paul Fraser, B.C.’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner.

Fraser’s job was to decide whether he should take a thorough look into Redford and how a group including her ex-hubby’s law firm got to be representing the provincial government in its $10 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies.

Fraser says what has come to be known as Tobaccogate should be given another once-over because of new info revealed after Alberta’s ethics boss Neil Wilkinson cleared Redford in 2013.

Just so you know, Wilkinson, formerly the Tory-appointed chair of the Capital Health Authority, once said the PC government was a “family” in defending the Tories quickly hiring back a defeated cabinet minister.

This story is about Redford as justice minister awarding a group of lawyers the contract to get tobacco companies to cough up $10 billion to the provincial government for health care costs.

If the lawyers win the court case, the cut of the action for the legal beagles could be in the hundreds of millions.

As we now know, one of the groups wanting the work included a Calgary law firm where Redford’s ex-hubby Robert Hawkes was a partner.

Redford and Hawkes were still politically close.

When Redford became premier Hawkes led her transition team.

Well, it was the job of bigshot provincial government lawyers to recommend which lucky group got to represent the province in the pricey lawsuit.

But the committee of lawyers came up with two versions of what they recommended.

In the first version, the group including the firm of Redford’s ex-hubby came last out of three outfits because of “their lack of depth.”

The committee recommended Redford choose between one of the other two groups.

But after this note was sent to Redford’s executive assistant Jeff Henwood the committee cooked up another version.

The group including Redford’s ex-hubby and his law firm was back in the game and nothing was mentioned about them being ranked last.

Instead, each group had “unique strengths and weaknesses” and deciding among the three was up to Redford.

Other paperwork shows government bigwigs did not consider all three groups equal.

Redford chose the group led by her ex-hubby’s firm.

Earlier this year, in a $160,000 probe, retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci found it “abundantly clear” Wilkinson hadn’t eyeballed all relevant evidence, including the first version of the briefing note and government emails.

The justice found no evidence Redford saw the first version of the briefing note.

Iacobucci’s report made its way to Fraser. Now we have a re-investigation.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean says this isn’t the end of Toryland being in the news.

“There are going to be skeletons falling out of the closets for a long time,” he says, adding it will remind Albertans of why they voted the PCs out.

Jean speaks of the former government’s “trail of deceit and inexcusable behaviour and cronyism.”

The Wildrose leader says it is important to get to the bottom of things.

The Notley NDP don’t have the same feeling. They don’t want to tear down the PCs. They want the PCs fighting it out with Wildrose.

Still, Jean does not believe this news of another look-see of Redford has the same impact it would have had a couple of years ago.

“Today Albertans know the PCs are dead. Everybody knows they’re dead,” says Jean.

“So this is just one more pile-on.”

[email protected]

Conflict of interest probe into ex-Alberta premier Alison Redford lacked important evidence: report

Mariam Ibrahim, Postmedia News | April 4, 2016 11:59 PM ET
A former Alberta ethics commissioner lacked important evidence in his conflict of interest investigation into how Alison Redford awarded the province’s lawsuit against big tobacco companies, a new report has found.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci’s independent review of Neil Wilkinson’s 2013 investigation into Redford’s handling of the file found the former ethics commissioner wasn’t given more than a half-dozen relevant emails and briefing notes.

“The information that was not available to the ethics commissioner raises questions that bear on the subject matter of the … investigation,” Iacobucci said in his 27-page report released Monday, which cost the Alberta government $160,000.

Iacobucci recommends the government refer the matter to current ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler to determine if a new investigation is needed.

“Members of the public will continue to harbour doubts about the propriety of the selection of external counsel to conduct the tobacco litigation, and this may lead to an erosion of confidence in the administration of government in the province more generally,” he wrote.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley has referred the report to Trussler and asked for her advice even though Redford is no longer a sitting MLA. The former scandal-plagued MLA resigned as premier in March 2014 and then gave up her Calgary legislature seat less than six months later.

“I think people still have outstanding questions arising from this matter and I think it’s really important that we do our absolutely level best to ensure that those questions are answered, and that the public can have confidence in their government and particularly in the ministry of justice,” Ganley said.

The NDP government appointed Iacobucci to independently review Wilkinson’s investigation in December.

Wilkinson launched his investigation after it was revealed the former premier, while justice minister, chose the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers Consortium to represent the province in its $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco companies.

Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, was a partner at one of the firms included in the consortium; however, ex-spouses aren’t named as a potential source of conflict in the province’s conflict of interest laws.

Government documents show the consortium ultimately chosen for the litigation in 2010 had originally been ranked last out of three potential firms interviewed for the contract.

A review committee drafted a briefing note stating the consortium was ranked last, “primarily due to their lack of depth and the lack of any presence in Edmonton,” Iacobucci’s report said.

A further revision of that note included a recommendation that Redford instead select between two other firms — Bennett Jones or McLennan Ross — for the contract.

However, that recommendation was ultimately removed from the briefing note delivered to Redford. Instead, it said: “All three consortiums have unique strengths and weaknesses, and the decision really depends on what ‘package’ is most appealing to government,” according to Iacobucci’s report.

The retired justice said in his report he found no evidence that Redford knew about the earlier draft or the review committee’s initial recommendation.

Both Hawkes and Redford were among the 15 people interviewed by Iacobucci for his report, which examined only whether Wilkinson had all the necessary information at his disposal in 2013.

Coal power buying rule challenged – Alberta NDP say consumers left on the hook

26 Jul 2016

Lethbridge Herald

John Cotter


The Alberta government is going to court to challenge a regulation it says will saddle consumers with billions of dollars in losses from coal-fired power agreements. The NDP says last-minute changes to a regulation passed secretly by the Progressive Conservatives in 2000 allows power companies to hand back agreements to buy electricity from coal-fired plants if actions by the government make them more unprofitable.

Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman said the government estimates these power purchasing arrangements could end up costing consumers up to $2 billion by 2020.

“Today our government is taking legal action to protect everyday Albertans from having to pay for the business losses of Alberta’s biggest and most profitable power companies,” Hoffman said Monday.

“We think this is not only unfair to Albertans, it is also unlawful.”

Hoffman said U.S.-based Enron lobbied the Alberta Tories for the change as part of the government’s plan to deregulate the province’s electricity market. Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001 following an accounting fraud scandal.

Hoffman said the Tory government at the time told Albertans the risks of a deregulated electricity system would be shared by power companies.

She said the “Enron clause” did the opposite — it set up a system where consumers bear all the risk.

“Our government believes that regular Albertans should not be on the hook for secret backroom deals between companies and the previous PC government.”

Hoffman said the clause was not included in more than a year of public hearings and the government took steps to hide the clause by exempting it from standard public disclosure.

Enmax Corporation has used the regulation to terminate its power purchasing arrangement. Earlier this year Enmax said the government’s decision to charge companies a higher tax on carbon dioxide emissions this year and in 2017 made the agreement unprofitable.

The government contends the Tories had no legal right to create such a legal loophole and is seeking a court order declaring the regulation to be void.

The NDP also wants a judge to quash a decision by a government agency called the Balancing Pool to accept Enmax’s decision to hand back its agreement.

Other companies that have served notice they intend to terminate such arrangements include TransCanada Corp., Capital Power PPA Management and the ASTC Power Partnership.

On Monday, Enmax issued a news release saying they have concerns with the accuracy of information in the filing.

“These legal agreements with the government have been in place and relied upon for 16 years, and were intended to be respected for a 20-year period by an industry that has invested billions of dollars in Alberta during this time,” said the release.

“We are very disappointed that the government is retroactively challenging fundamental aspects that have been in place in these agreements since their inception.” Capital Power Corp. also issued a statement Monday.

“We will exercise every legal avenue at our disposal to ensure that the Government of Alberta honours the terms of the PPAs,” said Capital Power president and CEO Brian Vaasjo.

“We believe the legal claim is without merit, and we will look to the courts to ensure that the Government of Alberta cannot retroactively amend an arrangement for which Albertan companies paid and upon which they have been relying in good faith for 16 years.”

Capital Power also called into question some of the government’s assertions.

“Today’s announcement by the Government of Alberta claims that the PPA terminations will result in consumers bearing up to $2 billion in costs between now and 2020. This claim is misleading because it is incomplete. Based on available public information, the Balancing Pool can reduce its liability to an estimated $950 million by terminating the PPAs that were recently turned back to them, or to an estimated $635 million by terminating some PPAs, and retaining and managing others.”

Spokesman Mark Cooper said TransCanada has always operated in a fully open and transparent manner and will defend its right to terminate the arrangements.

“We properly exercised our termination rights under provisions in the Power Purchase Arrangements that were clear 16 years ago and that remain clear today,” he said in a statement.

“The Government of Alberta through its regulator the AUB clarified the intent of these provisions for all parties during a fully public process back in 2000. We relied on the termination provisions in the PPAs as fundamental to the commercial decision to participate in the PPA auction and would not have participated without them.”

In March, TransCanada and Capital Power both cited the increasing costs of CO2 emissions when serving notice of their intention to terminate their agreements.

NDP gov’t continues to pile up debt

Lethbridge Herald

By Letter to the Editor on July 26, 2016.
There is something very wrong with our NDP government in Alberta. They said they would discuss plans with the people before they acted. This has not been the case.

The biggest mistake so far is probably the environmental minister slashing the firefighting budget even though they knew it was a dry winter and dry spring forecasted. What would have happened with the Fort McMurray disaster had a water bomber got out on day one instead of day three? They were available. The fire disaster might have been avoided?

Their failure to work with farmers when they went ahead and changed the rules for the Workers Compensation Board. What were they thinking?

The following will increase spending for most Albertans and will probably lead to a loss of jobs and businesses because of less disposable cash. Introducing a carbon tax that the people of Alberta will have to pay for even though the oilsands industry currently accounts for approximately 0.12 per cent of global GHG emissions (Environment Canada 2015). This will increase costs at all levels and no rebates will cover it all and won’t make a dent in world emissions. It will hurt the poorest the most. Minimum wages to continue to rise to a point where people will stop going out to eat, etc. because of increases in prices.

Introduction of a beer tax which will hurt and possibly close the fledgling microbreweries. The government is moving forward with its plans to expand the bureaucracy and reward the friendly unions who helped elect an NDP government in Alberta.

According to the NDP’s forecast, in five years, Alberta’s debt will reach $47.4 billion. That’s about $12,000 for every man, woman and child in the province. What are they going to come out with next?

Finally with all the promises of infrastructure funding why aren’t our MLAs and our MP not fighting for dollars for our second bridge? The time is right.

Jim Tratch



Alberta NDP to challenge coal power buying rule known as ‘Enron clause’

WATCH ABOVE: The Alberta government is taking some of the province’s biggest power providers to court. The NDP alleges a series of backroom deals involving Enron and the former PC government could cost consumers $2 billion. Fletcher Kent explains.

 The Alberta government is going to court to challenge a regulation it says will saddle consumers with billions of dollars in losses from coal-fired power agreements.

The NDP says last-minute changes to a regulation passed secretly by the Progressive Conservatives in 2000 allows power companies to hand back agreements to buy electricity from coal-fired plants if actions by the government make them more unprofitable.

Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman said the government estimates these power purchasing arrangements could end up costing consumers up to $2 billion by 2020.

“Today our government is taking legal action to protect everyday Albertans from having to pay for the business losses of Alberta’s biggest and most profitable power companies,” Hoffman said Monday.

“We think this is not only unfair to Albertans, it is also unlawful.”

Hoffman said U.S.-based Enron lobbied the Alberta Tories for the change as part of the government’s plan to deregulate the province’s electricity market. Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001 following an accounting fraud scandal.

READ MORE: Alberta electricity rates to rise sharply because of climate plan, says study

Hoffman said the Tory government at the time told Albertans that the risks of a deregulated electricity system would be shared by power companies.

She said the “Enron clause” did the opposite – it set up a system where consumers bear all the risk.

“Our government believes that regular Albertans should not be on the hook for secret backroom deals between companies and the previous PC government.”

Hoffman said the clause was not included in more than a year of public hearings and the government took steps to hide the clause by exempting it from standard public disclosure.

Enmax Corporation has used the regulation to terminate its power purchasing arrangement. Earlier this year Enmax said the government’s decision to charge companies a higher tax on carbon dioxide emissions this year and in 2017 made the agreement unprofitable.

The government contends the Tories had no legal right to create such a legal loophole and is seeking a court order declaring the regulation to be void.

The NDP also wants a judge to quash a decision by a government agency called the Balancing Pool to accept Enmax’s decision to hand back its agreement.

Other companies that have served notice they intend to terminate such arrangements include TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP), Capital Power PPA Management (TSX:CPX) and the ASTC Power Partnership.

On Monday, Enmax issued a news release saying they have concerns with the accuracy of information in the filing.

“These legal agreements with the government have been in place and relied upon for 16 years, and were intended to be respected for a 20-year period by an industry that has invested billions of dollars in Alberta during this time,” said the release.

“We are very disappointed that the government is retroactively challenging fundamental aspects that have been in place in these agreements since their inception.”

READ MORE: Alberta NDP’s plan to phase out coal could triple power bills, says Coal Association

Capital Power Corp. also issued a statement Monday.

“We will exercise every legal avenue at our disposal to ensure that the Government of Alberta honours the terms of the PPAs,” said Capital Power president and CEO Brian Vaasjo.

“We believe the legal claim is without merit, and we will look to the courts to ensure that the Government of Alberta cannot retroactively amend an arrangement for which Albertan companies paid and upon which they have been relying in good faith for 16 years.”

Capital Power also called into question some of the government’s assertions.

“Today’s announcement by the Government of Alberta claims that the PPA terminations will result in consumers bearing up to $2 billion in costs between now and 2020. This claim is misleading because it is incomplete. Based on available public information, the Balancing Pool can reduce its liability to an estimated $950-million by terminating the PPAs that were recently turned back to them, or to an estimated $635-million by terminating some PPAs, and retaining and managing others.”

Spokesman Mark Cooper said TransCanada has always operated in a fully open and transparent manner and will defend its right to terminate the arrangements.

“We properly exercised our termination rights under provisions in the Power Purchase Arrangements that were clear 16 years ago and that remain clear today,” he said in a statement.

“The Government of Alberta through its regulator the AUB clarified the intent of these provisions for all parties during a fully public process back in 2000. We relied on the termination provisions in the PPAs as fundamental to the commercial decision to participate in the PPA auction and would not have participated without them.”

READ MORE: Electricity analyst says Alberta has reasonable deadline to get off coal 

In March, TransCanada and Capital Power both cited the increasing costs of CO2 emissions when serving notice of their intention to terminate their agreements.

Nigel Bankes, chairman of Natural Resources Law at the University of Calgary, said he is surprised by how the amendment was developed and handled by the then Tory government and regulators.

He wondered how officials at the time decided it was in the public interest.

“This amendment is not the sort of clause you would expect to see in any ordinary commercial arrangement because it really did provide an open-ended opportunity for companies to walk away from unprofitable arrangements having taking advantage for many years of very profitable arrangements,” he said.

“The transfer of risk that was going on here was just remarkable and it was just done with a sleight of hand.”

The Progressive Conservatives issued a statement Monday afternoon suggesting the NDP was trying to dodge accountability for its policy decisions.

“This government has a habit of blaming others for the consequences of its own policy decisions – decisions that are costing Alberta taxpayers billions,” interim PC party leader Ric McIver said in a release. “The regulation in question has been a matter of public record and available via the Queen’s Printer for the past 15 years. The government failed to read the contract before triggering this clause with its poor policy decisions.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also criticized the NDP government’s decision to take legal action Monday.

“This suit is outrageous,” Nenshi told reporters Monday evening.  “We have this spectacle of the provincial government suing itself because apparently it didn’t know its own policies that have been in place for 15 or 16 years, and that Enmax has been abiding by.”

Watch below: Mayor Naheed Nenshi blasted Alberta’s NDP government on Monday over its decision to take power providers to court over a controversial coal power buying rule. Nenshi suggested the government was “suing itself” because it didn’t know its own policy.

The Wildrose Opposition called the government’s court action “heavy-handed.”

“Today’s announcement to take private companies to court over agreements signed at the turn of the century is extremely short-sighted and will keep billions of dollars of necessary investment away from our province,” Wildrose critic Don MacIntyre said in a news release.

Hoffman said lower electricity prices are why power companies are losing money.

The court action is to be heard in November.

-With files from Global News.

© 2016 The Canadian Press

Varcoe: Blame game heats up as province heads to court over unprofitable power contracts

Is the former Progressive Conservative government responsible for a critical electricity decision that could cost Albertans up to $2 billion in higher charges — or is the current NDP government accountable?

Or is anyone to blame in this high-voltage affair?

Ultimately, that question could be decided by an Alberta court after the Notley government started legal action Monday to try to stop utility companies from unloading unprofitable power purchase arrangements (PPAs) on to consumers.

It’s a showdown that’s been brewing for months, but dates back to the Klein government’s deregulation of Alberta’s power market almost two decades ago.

The lawsuit involves a provision contained in the power contracts that the government is now calling “the Enron clause” after the notorious U.S. energy company — and the NDP is fighting to have the clause voided.

“Our government believes that Albertans shouldn’t be on the hook for secret back-room deals that were created between companies like Enron and the previous PC government,” Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman told a news conference at the legislature.

“We think it is not only unfair to Albertans, it is also unlawful.”

Since the spring, the government has been trying to find a way to prevent the utilities from transferring money-losing PPAs into the lap of a government-created agency, the Balancing Pool.

The agency sells electricity from older generation contracts that weren’t sold at auction when Alberta’s market deregulated in the late 1990s.

It allocates any profits or losses back to consumers on their monthly electricity bills. To date, the pool has returned more than $4.4 billion to Alberta consumers.

Rapidly, however, the profits are turning into losses. Power prices have recently plunged to 20-year lows.

On Dec. 11, Calgary’s power utility Enmax gave notice it was terminating its PPA for the Battle River coal-fired power facility.

It noted the province was increasing Alberta’s carbon tax on heavy greenhouse gas emitters and that the PPA became “unprofitable or more unprofitable” for Enmax.

The power arrangements originally contained an exit clause that allowed for the contract to be terminated if a change in law made the PPAs unprofitable.

But the arrangements were later amended in August 2000 to also include the words “more unprofitable.”

The province claims the change was made at the behest of now-defunct Enron, then a big player in Alberta’s power market.

The province argues no public notice was given or hearings held into the changes made by Alberta’s Energy and Utilities Board at the time, and that the province’s own energy regulator made an amendment “that it was not authorized by law to make,” according to court documents.

The government says it isn’t fair for consumers to have to pay for losses on contracts that were already unprofitable due to market conditions. It notes the buyers collectively made an estimated $11 billion in profit from their PPA operations dating back to last decade.

After Enmax terminated its PPA, the decision was accepted by the Balancing Pool in January — something the province is also contesting.

Other utilities stuck with unprofitable coal-fired PPAs have since joined the stampede and terminated their contracts. However, their cancellations haven’t been accepted by the pool.

In March, a statement by Energy Minister Marg-McCuaig Boyd noted “any change of ownership of the power purchase arrangement will have minimal impact to consumers.”

But stuck with the unprofitable contract, the Balancing Pool has already begun taking steps to brace for the financial meteor heading its way.

Its board of directors approved a strategy this spring to liquidate its $705-million investment portfolio due to the cash requirements tied to the contract terminations.

If the cancellations are upheld, the Balancing Pool will have to cover the shortfall, estimated at up to $2 billion by the time the contracts finally expire in 2020, according to the government.

In essence, the NDP government is blaming the former PC government for being asleep at the switch and not examining the repercussions of the “more unprofitable” clause on Alberta consumers.

Hoffman leaned heavily on inflammatory language at the news conference, using words like “secret clause” and “covert moves” to describe the changes made back in 2000.

“It’s clear there was an intention to have this deal struck secretly between Enron and the then government, and that certainly is not in the public interest, and we’re arguing it’s also unlawful,” she said.

But there’s a counter-point to be made here.

If the NDP hadn’t changed the carbon levy on heavy emitters, it wouldn’t have given companies the opportunity to terminate the contracts in the first place, critics contend.

“It’s a banana republic move,” charged Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark. “They’ve tied themselves in legal knots to try to find some way of un-ringing the bell.”

Enmax added that the government should have known about the implications of its carbon levy. “Enmax’s actions on its PPAs were completely foreseeable, legal and reasonable,” it said in a statement.

In its court filing, the province contends the energy, environment and justice ministers only became aware of the “more unprofitable” clause in a mid-March 2016 meeting with the Balancing Pool.

And so the case is now headed for the courts in November.

Meanwhile, the Balancing Pool has to accept all of the losses of the terminated power contracts until the legal matter is decided.

This messy case may have its roots back in the formative days of power deregulation some 16 years ago, but the issue will have ramifications for consumers in the days ahead with higher surcharges likely added to their power bills.

And the blame game is only getting started.

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

[email protected]


Fracking may worsen asthma, study says

19 Jul 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Fracking may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near sites where the oil and gas drilling method is used, according to an eight-year study in Pennsylvania.

The study found that asthma treatments were as much as four times more common in patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than those living far away.

But the study did not establish that fracking directly caused or worsened asthma. There’s also no way to tell from the study whether asthma patients exposed to fracking fare worse than those exposed to more traditional gas drilling methods or to other industrial activities.

Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to crack rock. Environmental effects include exhaust, dust and noise from heavy truck traffic transporting water and other materials, and from drilling rigs and compressors. Fracking and improved drilling methods led to a boom in production of oil and gas in several U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

Johns Hopkins University researcher Sara Rasmussen, the study’s lead author, said pollution and stress from the noise caused by fracking might explain the results. But the authors emphasized that the study doesn’t prove what caused patients’ symptoms.

More than 25 million U.S. adults and children have asthma, a disease that narrows airways in the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, breathing difficulties and chest tightness, and they can sometimes flare up with exposure to dust, air pollution and stress.

Previous research has found heavy air pollution in areas where oil and gas drilling is booming.

The new study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers noted that between 2005 and 2012, more than 6,200 fracking wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. They used electronic health records to identify almost 36,000 asthma patients treated during that time in the Geisinger Health System, which covers more than 40 counties in Pennsylvania. Evidence of asthma attacks included new prescriptions for steroid medicines, emergency-room treatment for asthma and asthma hospitalizations.

During the study, there were more than 20,000 new oral steroid prescriptions ordered, almost 5,000 asthma hospitalizations and almost 2,000 ER asthma visits.

Those outcomes were 50 per cent to four times more common in asthma patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than among those living far away.

The highest risk for asthma attacks occurred in people living a median of about 12 miles from drilled wells. The lowest risk was for people living a median of about 40 miles away.

Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association, called the study “interesting and provocative.” But he said it only shows an association between fracking and asthma, not a “cause and effect,” and that more rigorous research is needed.


County faces lawsuit due to tax

Posted on July 12, 2016
By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News

A group of feedlot operators and supporters from the Lethbridge County area are using the courts to try and get a judge to make a ruling the new county Funding Our Future tax bylaws are invalid through a recent lawsuit.
“It was delivered to the courts June 18,” said Rick Paskal, from Van Raay Paskal Farms near Picture Butte. Paskal is one of the litigants in the law suit.
It was announced earlier this year, new county taxes were on the way for livestock operations, after Lethbridge County passed second and third reading of three bylaws at a regular meeting held Apr. 21.
The Business Tax Bylaw, Special Tax Bylaw and Community Aggregate Payment Levy became a reality, after tedious deliberations and public consultation.
As for the Business Tax Bylaw, the 2016 county budget includes $1.6 million for road construction, $1.4 million for bridge replacement/repair and $500,000 for hardtop surfaces, which will be placed in a capital reserve for a future hardtop project.
According to a report submitted to county council for consideration, the phased in approach to Funding Our Future, which includes the business tax bylaw, special tax bylaw and community aggregate levy bylaw will result in a total of $850,000 less in revenue in 2016, as the county moves forward to fund maintenance and reconstruction of the county’s Market Access Network, which includes 2,000 kilometres of roads and 167 bridges. The county, according to a report, needs to collect over $3 million annually to invest in this network starting in 2016.
Funding Option 4 is based on a two-year phase-in approach of Option 1 with 75 per cent of revenue from the business tax and special tax in 2016 and increased to 100 per cent in 2017. Option 1, the report stated, reflects calculations based on the economic impact method resulting in $925,740 or 26 per cent of revenue generated from special tax and $2,474,260 or 71 per cent from the intensive livestock industry through a business tax. The report stated the 2016 tax rate in Option 4 is $3 per animal unit and a 2016 revenue of $1,855,695.
What the group of litigants and supporters are concerned about, Paskal noted, is the county elevating the tax level to an area where feedlot operators will be in a very uncompetitive position with other jurisdictions.
There’s two sides of the equation, Paskal explained — there’s a revenue side.
“The county is requesting more dollars for revenue, and we’re rather supportive of the county on lobbying the provincial government and the federal government for proper allocation of fuel taxes. We’re already paying a bunch of tax. A 25,000-head feedlot pays about $125,000 a year in fuel tax plus our regular property assessment that everybody gets assessed in the county,” Paskal said.
According to Paskal, by the county enacting this law, they allegedly have the power on their own to increase tax to whoever, whenever to balance their budget.
“They already published the tax is going to be higher next year and they wish they would have started it at $7 a head. They have a mandate to balance their budget by revenue only,” Paskal said.
What the group’s issue was right from day one — Paskal noted, is what about expenditures? What about the county’s handling of ratepayers’ dollars?
Before the group launched the lawsuit, Paskal added, it could see the county’s spending is, in the group’s opinion, totally out of control.
“The money they are wasting here today, they’ve told county residents the roads are in bad condition. The roads are not in bad condition, they’re taking perfectly good roads rebuilt seven years ago and spending $100,000 a mile to redo these roads again. It’s just a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Council does not run the county, he noted — management runs the county, in Paskal’s opinion. “That’s a real problem here,” he added.
Lethbridge County Councillors and staff have been advised not to speak about matters currently before the courts, it was reported.


County tax fight goes to court – FEEDLOT OPERATORS SAY THEY’RE FED UP

14 Jul 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Stan Ashbee


A group of feedlot operators and supporters from the Lethbridge County area are using the courts to try to get a judge to make a ruling the new county Funding Our Future tax bylaws are invalid.

“It was delivered to the courts June 18,” said Rick Paskal, from Van Raay Paskal Farms near Picture Butte. Paskal is one of the litigants in the lawsuit.

It was announced earlier this year that new county taxes were on the way for livestock operations, with the Business Tax Bylaw, Special Tax Bylaw and the Community Aggregate Payment Levy.

The 2016 county budget includes $1.6 million for road construction, $1.4 million for bridge replacement/repair and $500,000 for hardtop surfaces, which will be placed in a capital reserve for a future hardtop project.

According to a report submitted to county council for consideration, the phased in approach to Funding Our Future, which includes the business tax bylaw, special tax bylaw and community aggregate levy bylaw, will result in a total of $850,000 less in revenue in 2016.

The county is trying to fund maintenance and reconstruction of its Market Access Network, which includes 2,000 kilometres of roads and 167 bridges. The county, according to a report, needs to collect more than $3 million annually to invest in this network, starting in 2016.

Funding Option 4 is based on a twoyear phase-in approach of Option 1 with 75 per cent of revenue from the business tax and special tax in 2016 and increased to 100 per cent in 2017. Option 1, the report stated, reflects calculations based on the economic impact method resulting in $925,740 or 26 per cent of revenue generated from special tax and $2,474,260 or 71 per cent from the intensive livestock industry through a business tax.

What the group of litigants and supporters are concerned about, Paskal noted, is the county elevating the tax level to an area where feedlot operators will be in a very uncompetitive position with other jurisdictions.

There’s two sides of the equation, Paskal explained — there’s a revenue side.

“The county is requesting more dollars for revenue, and we’re rather supportive of the county on lobbying the provincial government and the federal government for proper allocation of fuel taxes,” he said.

“We’re already paying a bunch of tax. A 25,000-head feedlot pays about $125,000 a year in fuel tax plus our regular property assessment that everybody gets assessed in the county.”

According to Paskal, by the county enacting this law, they allegedly have the power on their own to increase tax to whoever, whenever to balance their budget.

“They already published the tax is going to be higher next year and they wish they would have started it at $7 a head. They have a mandate to balance their budget by revenue only,” Paskal said.

What the group’s issue was from day one, Paskal noted, is what about expenditures? What about the county’s handling of ratepayers’ dollars? Before the group launched the lawsuit, Paskal added, it could see the county’s spending is, in the group’s opinion, totally out of control.

“The money they are wasting here today, they’ve told county residents the roads are in bad condition,” he said. “The roads are not in bad condition, they’re taking perfectly good roads rebuilt seven years ago and spending $100,000 a mile to redo these roads again. It’s just a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Council does not run the county, he noted — management runs the county, in Paskal’s opinion. “That’s a real problem here,” he added.

Lethbridge County Councillors and staff have been advised not to speak about matters currently before the courts.


Landowners losing on leases

Farmers should refuse to accept lower lease payments from oil companies, says advocacy group

Posted by

The Western ProducerAlberta’s Surface Rights Board is a recourse for landowners in cases where an energy company becomes insolvent or refuses to pay lease fees. | File photoAlberta’s Surface Rights Board is a recourse for landowners in cases where an energy company becomes insolvent or refuses to pay lease fees. | File photo

There was $1,200 missing from the lease fee cheque Verna Phippen received this year from the energy company that has leases on her land.

The Pigeon Lake, Alta., landowner filed a claim with the Alberta Surface Rights Board to obtain the balance of the fee owed according to her lease agreement, but she isn’t holding her breath for a quick payment.

“I know of people that have been waiting a couple years and have yet to get their cheque even though the Surface Rights Board has recommended to the minister (of finance) that they be paid out of general revenues,” said Phippen.

Her situation may become commonplace, as the beleaguered Alberta oil and gas industry seeks to cut costs amid a pricing slump that is affecting almost all sectors of the economy.

More than one energy company has asked farmers to accept reduced lease payments, which are designed to compensate them for adverse effect on their land and inconvenience resulting from the presence of wells and pipelines on their property.

They should refuse those requests, said Ronald Huvenaars, a farmer from Hays, Alta., who is chair of Action Surface Rights (ASR), an advocacy group formed to help landowners deal with energy companies.

“Don’t sign,” said Huvenaars.

“If you sign that for a reduced rate and this company happens to go bankrupt, in the next year or so, if you want to apply to the Surface Rights Board to get your lease payment, the lease payment will only be for the new re-negotiated price.

“Basically you’re committing yourself to a lower amount from that day on, until you can renegotiate a higher price again.”

Huvenaars said he has not been asked to accept a lower rate on his leases but knows of other landowners who have been approached to do so.

“They’re sending out letters saying ‘due to the problems in the industry, we feel we want you to cut your lease rates.’ A lot of them are saying in half.

“It’s to share the pain, I guess, is how their letters go. Everybody’s just trying to find a place to save some funds. Some of the companies are finding all kinds of interesting federal legislation to try to get out of leases.”

However, Huvenaars points out energy companies didn’t offer to increase lease payments when oil prices were high. Rates are written in contracts.

Daryl Bennett, an ASR director and vice-president with My Landman Group, said he has been helping farmers deal with requests for reduced lease payments, some of them seeking a 50 or 60 percent reduction.

“In those cases we just send them a letter saying we are applying to the Surface Rights Board and they have 30 days to pay the remainder of the amount or we’ll apply to the board and then they can have the privilege of paying for representation costs for the landowner,” said Bennett.

“Usually the company will back off because they’ll have to pay far more than that in legal costs to go before the board.”

In some cases, energy companies have offered to pay farmers a lump sum for wells they say are close to reclamation. However, if that reclamation doesn’t take place, the landowner will have forfeited the lease payments.

“That’s a common tactic, for companies to promise reclamation, but they don’t have the money to reclaim a lot of these wells. They’re just trying to get rid of their obligation to pay the rental,” said Bennett.

“We’re simply telling landowners that if you have a producing well on your land, and the company is just telling you they’re reducing the rents, don’t stand for it.”

Energy company bankruptcy is already a fact of life in the sector. In 2015, 20 Canadian oil and gas exploration companies went into receivership, according to Sayer Energy Advisors, a company involved in energy industry acquisitions and mergers. It said in its winter 2016 newsletter that it expected more to fold in 2016.

Bennett said the ASR group is waiting for a response to its submission to the finance department, asking if it will cover landowners’ legal costs to recoup full lease payments and whether the government is in turn calling energy companies to account.

“We do not think the minister of finance is trying to recoup money from existing operators who refuse to pay and to us, that’s a dereliction of duty. They should be doing that,” Bennett said.

Huvenaars wonders if the situation will worsen as energy companies pull out the stops to save money and survive until oil prices improve.

“One of my fears is that it becomes a bit of a vicious circle when a few companies start trying to do some of these things. We have companies that respect their commitments. But everybody is competitive … and when your competitors are starting to try to walk away from things … it almost forces other companies to start working at doing the same thing.”

Alberta’s Farmers Advocate Office (FAO) issued an advisory about energy companies’ efforts to reduce their payments.

“The amount provided for annual rental is based on a landowner’s Adverse Effect and Loss of Use, not the state of the industry,” the FAO said.

“A company cannot unilaterally decide to reduce the amount of compensation provided to a landowner. Section 27 (6) of the Surface Rights Act entitles landowners to the opportunity to negotiate with industry in good faith.

“A landowner is under no obligation to accommodate the changing financial circumstances of a company.”

The FAO further stated that landowners can seek compensation for unpaid or reduced rents through the SRB, and cashing a cheque from an energy company does not necessarily imply acceptance of the amount.

Can landowners sell their leases with energy companies?

Posted by

The Western Producer

An investment company interested in buying energy company leases from landowners got the attention of Verna Phippen of Pigeon Lake, Alta.

She has several leases on her land and would like to be relieved of the dealings she said have become a headache. Trouble is, she isn’t sure about the long-term implications or even the legality of making such a deal.

“There’s a lot of hydrocarbons under my land so I get bombarded by the oil and gas industry on a constant basis,” said Phippen.

“I’m one of those landowners that, every time they file to get a license, I file an objection with the regulator. I would love nothing more than to get rid of these guys and have someone else deal with them.”

Surface Capital is offering to buy energy leases from farmers to amass a portfolio for shareholder investment. As reported in the April 4 issue of The Western Producer, it estimates there are 700,000 oil leases in Saskatchewan and Alberta that could be worth $10 billion.

With the drastic reduction in oil prices in the past two years, some energy companies are in default of lease payments or have gone bankrupt and abandoned wells. Some of those wells can still be productive, while others will require reclamation.

Karen Johnson, Alberta’s Property Rights Advocate, said April 28 that her office is aware of Surface Capital’s general plan but has not seen a copy of any proposed agreement.

She said it is not the advocate’s role to comment on whether this or any agreement is legal, but rather to assess property rights situations “and then determine if there’s any recommended changes to property rights laws or processes that I can make to government.”

Phippen wonders how a third party such as Surface Capital could claim loss of use and adverse effect on her land. Such loss is the basis for lease payments by energy companies to land owners.

“They do not own land, nor do they occupy it. All they have is my former revenue stream, which the grantee may cut them off of because I had loss of use and adverse effect as the landowner, but the enterprise does not,” Phippen wrote in an email.

The Alberta Farmer’s Advocate Office (FAO) recently issued a warning to landowners about selling leases. It said the Surface Rights Board is a recourse for landowners in cases where an energy company becomes insolvent or refuses to pay lease fees.

“To imply that no recourse for unpaid rentals is available is a misleading approach that capitalizes on landowner fears,” the FAO said.

Value provided is also an issue.

“At this point, the FAO has not confirmed what payout is being offered to landowners in ex­change for their surface rights. Since a landowner has a right to be paid in full until the reclamation is complete, assigning the annual compensation to a third party in perpetuity may prevent a landowner from receiving full value in return for the impacts they experience during the lifetime of the development.”

There may also be tax implications and effects on the marketability of the property.

Swans found dead near transmission towers

By , Postmedia

First posted:

 Swans found dead near transmission towers
Swans found dead near transmission towers. Photo by Mike Sturk

Greg Wagner said he’s been the caretaker of Frank Lake, which is important bird habitat, for almost five years.

He first noticed three dead swans in March 2015 and has found eight others on six other occasions — including one earlier this week.

“AltaLink, two years ago, went in and put in new lines so that the power lines now surround the western half of the lake,” said Wagner, a professional biologist.

“The new lines are higher and they also have a top wire … and it’s my understanding that’s for lightning protection.

“That is a single wire and it’s hell on birds.”

Since that line went in, he said he’s found the 11 dead trumpeter swans and a snowy owl carcass in the area — a number he believes could be up to 10 times higher because he’s only been in the area that’s accessible to the public.

Officials with AltaLink, which runs the line, said they’re taking the report from Wagner very seriously.

“We’re in the early stages of an investigation,” said Nikki Heck, who’s been an environmental advisor for AltaLink for 12 years.

“We have an on-staff avian biologist, in addition to myself, and he was out (Tuesday) night.

“He did not find any carcasses, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They could have been scavenged.”

Wagner said he’s not 100% certain how the birds were killed, but the birds have always been found right under the lines.

“We do know that transmission lines have a major impact on trumpeter swans in the province,” he said, noting they aren’t as nimble as some birds.

“I would compare it to a passenger jet and a fighter jet: one can move on a dime; the other takes a little time to maneuver.

Heck said they know bird collisions can be an impact associated with transmission lines.

“AltaLink takes them very seriously,” she said, noting they will try to mitigate the situation based on the results of their investigation.

“We do have what’s called an avian protection plan.

Trumpeter swans, which stop at southern Alberta lakes in April as they migrate north, were recently removed from the province’s threatened species list.

They are still considered a species of special concern, with about 1,700 of the swans across Alberta.

[email protected]


Oil companies bucking their commitments

April 11, 2016

By Jennifer Blair

AF Staff

Farmers are struggling to get oil companies to pay their leases and complete reclamation work on abandoned wells

There’s a wet spot originating from an oil well in Anthony Bruder’s pasture that his cows won’t drink from.

“I’ve seen cows walk up to it, sniff it, and then walk a half-mile to the other end of the field to drink from the lake,” said Bruder, who farms near Twin Butte.

“If the cows won’t drink out of a puddle, there’s something wrong with it.”

Bruder suspects the well — drilled in the 1950s “back when technology wasn’t that great and the environment wasn’t on anybody’s mind” — is contaminated. But for many oil and gas companies struggling through Alberta’s most recent economic downturn, reclamation work isn’t in the budget.“

The government has ordered the company to do the Phase 2 environmental assessment, where they’re supposed to come out and take soil samples,” said Bruder.“

That was supposed to have been done by Nov. 30, 2015. And nothing has been done. We’re sitting here and waiting for the Alberta Energy Regulator to basically force the order they gave the company.”

This is the latest chapter in a long saga for producers like Bruder, who has seen his oil leases change hands several times over the last two decades.

“Each company that gets in here is a little smaller and has less money,” he said. “We’re sitting here now with a company that never did have enough money to do reclamation.”

Getting paid for his leases, both about 10 acres, has been another ongoing challenge for Bruder.

“In four of the last five years, we’ve had to go to the Surface Rights Board and have it force the company to pay us,” said Bruder. “It’s a fight every year.”

Board ‘Swamped’

But Bruder isn’t alone in that fight. In the last year, the Surface Rights Board has received more than 750 new applications from producers who haven’t been paid for their oil leases.

“The Surface Rights Board is being swamped,” said Daryl Bennett, a partner in My Landman Group. “There have been some companies that have just chosen not to pay any rentals, and now we anticipate them receiving thousands of applications for these rentals.”

Applications to recover unpaid lease rents can take up to six months to process. Board staff take care of simple cases, but more complex ones go to a hearing, resulting in another six-month delay. Following the hearing, it can take a year to get a decision, with another two-month delay in getting paid.

“Some landowners could easily see more than a two-year time period before they recover any of these monies,” said Bennett.

“They have streamlined the process in some ways, but we are still seeing six-month delays or more even getting a response that the Surface Rights Board has received our application.”

For bankrupt oil companies, producers have to go through that process every year.

“We’re in discussions with the board to make that process a little more efficient and effective from the landowners’ standpoint,” said Bennett. “The board has adjusted the recurring application to make it less onerous.”

Many larger oil and gas companies have asked landowners to drop their rents as much as 50 per cent due to the poor economic conditions, he added.

“Almost all of the bigger companies are asking for rent reductions, and it’s going to get worse, especially the longer oil stays down,” he said. “But when oil prices were really high, these same companies weren’t sending these same landowners suggestions they increase their rentals by 50 per cent.

“It seems like the oil companies think that the landowners should have to subsidize them during these tougher economic times.”

Well Reclamation

But the real problem, said Bennett, lies in reclaiming these well sites once operators go bankrupt.

“These wells can take up to $1 million to reclaim,” he said. “The Orphan Well Association doesn’t have the funds needed, and where the funds are going to come from is unknown.”

The association saw “quite a jump” from 2014 to 2015 in the number of orphan wells in the province, said Brad Herald, the association’s chair. The association is funded by oil and gas companies and acts as a “safety net” to take care of well abandonment and reclamation for defunct operators.

“We went from 160 up to 700,” said Herald, who is also vice-president of Western Canada operations for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“In response to the increase in inventory we’ve got, industry took the budget from $12 million to $30 million. We’ve seen more than a doubling in the budget in the last couple of years.”

But that’s just a “drop in the bucket” compared to what’s needed, said Bennett.

“The orphan well levy is basically a tax on solvent operators, so you’re having all the big guys having to pay for the reclamation of the bankrupt operators, and often, those guys didn’t put any money into the pot to take care of reclamation,” said Bennett.

“It’s basically a system where the last man standing has to take care of everybody else. That’s not fair.”

The “system is broken,” he said, and won’t be fixed until the price of oil goes back up.

“The orphan well funding process is broken because they’re not requiring them to provide the proper amount of money,” he said.

“This is not the time to ask those companies to increase their deposits. They simply don’t have the money. But when times improve, the government should be looking at this system and requiring industry to deposit the money necessary to reclaim these lands.”

Bruder agrees.

“If the government would have had the balls to enforce its own regulations on the industry, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in right now,” said Bruder.

“Companies would have made sure they had a pile of money sitting aside to do these reclamation projects they knew they had to do, and we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in right now.”

The situation has got worse because of the downturn, said Bruder, but he was “fighting through this when oil was $100 a barrel.”

“These companies never thought they had to do what they were supposed to do and were never forced to do what they were supposed to do,” he said.

“They got away with it the whole damn time, so what difference does it make to them?

“If you sit back and hope the company is going to do the right thing, you’re going to be sitting there for a long time.”

[email protected]

What the neighbours are paying doesn’t matter

Here are three ways to calculate fair rental rates — and none involves going to the coffee shop

APRIL 11, 2016


Determining a fair rental rate isn’t easy, says provincial farm business management specialist Dean Dyck “Often, people use what others are charging or paying in the local area,” said Dyck. “Following this approach has pitfalls because the rate may not be reflective of the soil productivity on the farm or there may be a difference between what was rumoured and what was actually paid.”

In Alberta, cash rent and crop share are the two most common rental arrangements. Cash rent is common because the lease is simple, the rent is fixed, and the landowner does not have to make any operating or marketing decisions. The tenant has more control over cropping decisions, and can benefit from higher profits.

A useful method to estimate a cash rent is called a “crop-share equivalent,” or the rental rate that would be received from a typical 75:25 crop-share lease. Computing the rate using this method requires estimates of long-term average yields in the area, and realistic prices for the coming year.

One way is to start with crop insurance yields and insurable prices, said Dyck.“Then apply a discount of 25 per cent for variability in weather, yields, and prices since the tenant is assuming all of these risks.”

The formula is: (yield x 25 per cent) x price x 75 per cent. Complete this calculation for at least four major crops grown in the area and take the average.

Another simple method is a percentage of gross returns. Compare cash rents in your area over the past five to 10 years against gross returns of crops that were grown. In many areas, cash rent is approximately 20 to 24 per cent of gross returns.

Crop-share rentals are becoming less common because many landowners do not want to take on yield or price risk. These leases are typically 75 per cent tenant: 25 per cent landlord. If fertilizer and chemicals are shared, then the lease shifts to 66 per cent tenant: 33 per cent landlord.

A general rule of thumb is “calculate, then negotiate.”

Tenants should know their cost of production and calculate the potential profit before establishing a fair price. While money plays a role, other factors will come into the negotiations such as land quality, location, compatibility, communications, and honesty.

“Once a price and terms have been agreed, the most important thing you can do is put the agreement in writing,” said Dyck. “This single act would eliminate the majority of disagreements that occur.”

Alberta Agriculture has a book — Leasing Cropland in Alberta — that can be purchased for $12. To order, go to (search for ‘leasing cropland’) or call 310-FARM.


AUC denies LLG request for review of Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock transmission line

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pincher Creek Voice

Christian Davis

A request from the Livingstone Landowners Guild (LLG) for a review of the proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock electricity transmission line was denied last month by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), which is the regulatory body for the utilities, natural gas, and electricity markets in Alberta.  LLG represents concerned landowners in the Oldman River watershed north of Highway 3 and east of the Livingstone Range into the Porcupine Hills.  In their application for review LLG questioned whether there was still a need for the transmission line, which is part of the Southern Alberta Transmission Reinforcement Project.

According to the AUC’s decision “The review panel concludes that the new facts or changed circumstances alleged in the review application were not new or different circumstances but rather future contingencies expressly contemplated in deciding prior need approvals applicable to the proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock transmission line. The review panel also finds that there is no reasonable possibility that these alleged new facts or changed circumstances could lead the Commission to materially vary or rescind any of these three decisions approving need. No basis has been shown leaving the review panel with a substantial doubt as to the reasonableness of the various findings identified above made in these regards by the original panels in decisions 2009-126, 2010-343 and 2014-004. In particular, the review panel has no substantial doubt that the milestone identification and monitoring process implemented in Decision 2010-343 was a reasonable way for the original hearing panel to address the certainty required in the future that the proposed Castle Rock Ridge to Chapel Rock transmission line will still then be needed and to have the AESO (Alberta Electric System Operator) make this assessment when the time came for construction of the transmission facilities.”

Alberta AG condemns Tory fail

13 Apr 2016

Lethbridge Herald



Alberta’s auditor general says the former Progressive Conservative government’s grand plan for 100 new schools was built on empty promises, administrative chaos, and almost no money. Merwan Saher, in a report issued Tuesday, said Albertans during the era of former premiers Alison Redford and Jim Prentice were promised something that had little hope of succeeding.

“I believe the lessons for ministers are don’t create false public expectations,” Saher told reporters after filing his report to the legislature.

Saher was asked last fall by Rachel Notley’s NDP government to investigate school construction under the previous two premiers after it announced there would be lengthy delays in 101 Tory-announced school projects.

In the decade prior to 2011 the province was building on average 18 schools a year, Saher said.

All changed under Redford’s government when it promised 50 new schools in 2012, but also introduced organizational changes that sowed confusion between the Education and Infrastructure departments with no clear hierarchy of authority, the auditor general said.

“No one was responsible for overall results,” Saher wrote.

Bureaucrats couldn’t give ministers the correct information because no one had the full picture, he said.

As a result, he wrote, “ministers made public commitments and announced completion dates without evidence those dates were reasonably attainable.”

Redford resigned as premier in March 2014 in a scandal over lavish spending on herself and inner circle.

She was replaced by Prentice whose government announced another 55 new schools.

But Saher said the funding in the budget for the schools was unclear under Redford and all but non-existent under Prentice.


Livestock tax a ‘very dangerous precedent’

13 Apr 2016

Lethbridge Herald

Dave Mabell Follow @DMabellHerald on Twitter

[email protected]

Plan angers independent business group

A tax on livestock production is the wrong way to pay for maintenance on rural roads. That’s the view of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, after hearing from hundreds of members in Lethbridge County.

Herald photo by Tijana Martin Follow @TMartinHerald on Twitter. Amber Ruddy, the Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, spoke to The Herald on Tuesday prior to attending a council meeting in Coalhurst.

They’re angry to hear Lethbridge County council plans to levy a $5 tax on every head of livestock, says CFIB spokesperson Amber Ruddy. Other counties and MDs have found other ways to keep their roads open, she says.

“This would be taxing one industry,” she said during an interview with The Herald Tuesday. “That would set a very dangerous precedent.”

The county says it’s planning the tax because it’s exhausted all other options, she noted. But it should look at contracting out more of its road work.

The livestock industry is already facing increased costs due to insurance and safety requirements in the province’s Bill 6, she said. Now Lethbridge-area producers are faced with additional costs.

“One sector can’t be hammered so hard,” she warned. “Everybody uses the roads, not just the farmers.”

If the tax is imposed despite their protests, Ruddy said, producers may decide to relocate to a lower-cost part of the province. Lethbridge County’s spending has grown far more rapidly than its population, she added.

The county may be getting some assistance from the provincial government, she predicted. If it follows through on its plans to increase spending on “core infrastructure,” the county should use those funds for road and bridge repair. “There’s nothing more core than that.” Looking to Thursday’s budget speech, Ruddy said CFIB members are hoping for a reduction in the province’s business tax — in light of this week’s announcement that it’s scrapping its proposed $178-million plan for tax credits to businesses which create new jobs.

Despite predictions of a provincial deficit of more than $10 billion this year, Ruddy said Alberta business owners are not in favour of a sales tax. That’s what other provinces use to help balance their books.

“That’s not popular among our members,” she said.

They don’t want to lose that “Alberta advantage” even though, she said, “That advantage is now razor thin.”



Study shows fracking behind Alta. quakes

30 Mar 2016

Lethbridge Herald


New research suggests that hydraulic fracking of oil and gas wells is behind earthquakes caused by humans in Western Canada.

A study, published Tuesday by a group of top Canadian researchers, says problems in Alberta and British Columbia aren’t being caused by injecting waste water underground. It’s a major step in understanding seismic events that have already led to changed regulations in Alberta and caused public concern in both provinces.

“It’s critical that we get to a complete scientific understanding of the issue,” said David Eaton, a University of Calgary geophysicist and a co-author of the study.

Fracking involves pumping high pressure fluids underground to create tiny cracks in rock to release natural gas or oil. Scientists had previously concluded that oil patch activity can cause earthquakes by making it easier for faults in underground rock to slip, but they didn’t know whether the Canadian quakes were caused by fracking or by the disposal of waste water by injecting it back underground.

Public interest has been high, especially after a tremblor in January shook pictures on the walls of homes in Fox Creek, Alta., a community in the centre of the Duvernay oil and gas field. Measuring between 4.2 and 4.8 on the Richter scale, the quake was the largest of hundreds of similar shakers around the community since 2013.

Eaton and his colleagues began with a database of more than 12,000 fracked and disposal wells drilled between 1985 and 2015. They cross-referenced that with another database of seismic events over that time.

A complex statistical analysis pinned the blame convincingly on fracking and not disposal, Eaton said.
“There are more earthquakes in Western Canada that are more related to hydraulic fracturing than waste-water injection by a factor of about two.”

Eaton said the situation is reversed in the United States, where waste-water disposal is considered to be behind most human-caused seismic activity.

That doesn’t mean that a lot of wells cause earthquakes. Eaton calculates that about 0.3 per cent of fracked wells create problems.

But there are enough wells drilled for even that tiny fraction to be a concern.

“Even at 0.3 per cent, because of the very large number of hydraulically fractured wells, it still represents an issue that is of high priority to address scientifically,” said Eaton.

Alberta’s energy regulator has already changed regulations for the industry as a result of the Fox Creek earthquakes. Eaton said regulators in British Columbia are also considering changes.

“The regulators have been quite responsive.”


Alberta Energy Minister keen on industry group’s well clean-up proposal

A pair of pumpjacks pump oil from an old well on a farmer's frozen field in a Pembina oil field near Pigeon Lake, Alta., in 2012. (Norm Betts/Bloomberg)
A proposal to use federal infrastructure funds to accelerate the cleanup of inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta – with the aim of spurring employment in the ailing industry – has the thumbs-up of the province’s Energy Minister.

The Petroleum Services Association of Canada announced Monday that it made the $500-million pitch to Ottawa earlier this month. The sum would cover a small fraction of the work needed to decommission the 75,000 wells across the province that are no longer producing.

“Good on them,” Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd said of PSAC’s move.

“That is one way to get Albertans back to work in the interim and it isn’t unprecedented,” she told reporters after speaking at an energy conference in Calgary on Tuesday.

McCuaig-Boyd referred to the Alberta government’s $30-million contribution to the province’s orphan well fund during the last downturn in 2009.

While Alberta does have a polluter-pay policy that makes companies responsible for well decommissioning, McCuaig-Boyd says the province also has big economic problems.

“I think we could put a lot of folks to work in a fairly quick time (with the federal money) because the skills are out there right now and it is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” she said.

“It will provide some jobs. No solution is going to provide jobs for everybody, but we need to look at how we can get as many Albertans back to work as we can.”

The Saskatchewan government made a similar federal pitch last month.

That province’s proposal would cost Ottawa $156-million and would generate an estimated 1,200 jobs over the next two years.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he’s not heard back from Ottawa yet on his proposal, but that he’ll be watching next week’s federal budget “very, very closely.”

“We’re hopeful (the PSAC ask) helps . . . provide some momentum to our request and that the federal government would indeed go with our request,” Wall said in a phone interview during an election campaign stop in Saskatoon.

Meanwhile, in her speech, McCuaig-Boyd touched on pipelines, saying the NDP government is taking a “calm and strategic” approach to the heated issue.

“We will get nowhere by beating our chests and shaming people into getting what we want,” she said. “That strategy has been tried in the past here in Alberta and federally and, to be honest, it’s failed miserably. Instead, we are taking a different approach.”

She said without a pipeline to the West Coast, the industry will slow down and have a lower demand for the hydroelectric power British Columbia wants to sell to Alberta.

“There’s a little give and take needed,” said McCuaig-Boyd, who added that she has not yet had the chance to broach the topic with her B.C. counterpart.

“If we don’t get the pipelines we’re not going to need as much power, so it’s plain and simple.”


‘Orphan’ wells left behind in oil slump

A pump jack on land south of Calgary, whose owner fears the well will soon be considered orphaned.A pump jack on land south of Calgary, whose owner fears the well will soon be considered orphaned. Chris Bolin/Chris Bolin

As companies in Alberta’s oil patch fight for survival, some are not decommissioning and cleaning up old sites, reports Kelly Cryderman

Hundreds of thousands of oil and natural gas wells dot Alberta’s landscape, and all are supposed to be sealed and cleaned up by their owners once their productive life is over.

But the dramatic crude price drop that began in mid-2014 means many energy companies, especially smaller producers, are fighting for their survival. If a wave of weaker oil and natural gas companies go bust before doing legally required end-of-life work, they will leave multiple “orphan” wells behind.

“In my mind, there’s no winner here. It’s going to cost somebody, and possibly the taxpayer in the end,” says Patricia Walker, a High River, Alta.-based consultant hired by landowners to help with disputes with energy firms.

To help protect the province from the financial risk of a massive environmental cleanup of old wells, the government has required companies to have enough assets or keep enough funds on hand to properly decommission their own sites. And even if this system doesn’t work, the oil industry as a whole funds an Orphan Well Association that works to seal up and “reclaim” the land around old, unwanted wells.

But there are warning signs the oil-price rout – and another year of casualties for Canadian junior and intermediate oil and gas companies – could dampen enthusiasm for the continuing care of the province’s well sites. According to Sayer Energy Advisors, 20 oil and gas companies went into receivership in 2015, compared with a typical annual average of around eight. Companies with larger inventories of wells could be “the next big blow up,” according to a report from the firm earlier this year.

Gale Tharle, a 4th-generation Alberta rancher, is photographed on his land an hour south of Calgary.Gale Tharle, a 4th-generation Alberta rancher, is photographed on his land an hour south of Calgary.

Chris Bolin

Already, the last 18 months have seen a major increase in the workload for Alberta’s Orphan Well Association. The number of orphan wells awaiting cleanup jumped significantly, going to around 700 from a previous total of 162. And a government-funded board forecasts that this year will see a dramatic increase in the government’s tab for lease payments to farmers and other landowners – meaning many small oil and gas companies no longer have the available cash to service their most basic of business costs.

Ms. Walker said her company, My Landman Group Inc., is helping Gale Tharle, a landowner near Mossleigh, Alta., who hasn’t been paid rent by the small oil producer who has one well on his land for three years. The rancher is now involved in a complex quest to receive the rent he is due, and is also grappling with invasive weeds, an old working shack with broken windows, and a pump-jack in disrepair on his land. Ms. Walker believes the insolvent company’s assets will eventually end up being added to the Orphan Well Association’s rolls.

“It looks like everybody will be out of luck.”

Wells and wellheads

Suspended well: A well that still has wellhead equipment present and may have produced in the past. These wells are currently not in production, usually due to economic reasons. But they may become active again with improved technology, infrastructure or commodity pricing. To suspend a well, an operator must notify the energy regulator and perform a series of procedures to ensure that the well poses no risk to the public and environment while it’s inactive.

Abandoned well: A decomissioned well where the wellbore has been properly cleaned and plugged, and cut and capped – which involves cutting the well casing a minimum of one metre below the surface and placing a vented cap on top of the well casing.

Reclaimed wellsite: A wellsite which has been properly abandoned, and has received a reclamation certificate for the land surface. Upon completion of oil and gas activity, a company must return the land as close as possible to its original state.

Orphan well: A well that has been investigated and confirmed as not having any legally responsible or financially able party to deal with its abandonment and reclamation.

Sources: The Alberta government, the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Orphan Well Association

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, more than 440,000 wells have been drilled in the province since 1963. Of those, 67,000 have been sealed up in a process called abandonment by the oil and gas industry and 105,000 have been both abandoned and have had the land cleaned up (reclaimed).

Of those that remain, many are still in use and have a productive life ahead of them. But there are tens of thousands, at least, that need to be abandoned and reclaimed.

“Albertans expect that the polluter clean up their mess. There is room to improve the current policies. That is why this government is looking at ways to make improvements,” said Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd.

The NDP government is in talks with the Alberta Energy Regulator about how to best address the issue of aging energy-sector infrastructure, but the province doesn’t have rules governing specific timelines for when wells need to be cleaned up. Industry watchers say the cleanup of old well sites won’t be a priority for companies being forced to lay off workers and struggling to stay afloat.

“How many non-producing wells are just being left sitting out there with nothing being done to clean up the oil industry’s legacy?” said Edmonton-based landowner advocate and lawyer Keith Wilson, who has long expressed concerns about the costs of cleaning up a growing inventory of wells in the province.

Mr. Wilson and others say with no specific timeline attached to the cleanup, some oil companies will simply keep wells in an inactive or suspended state – and will therefore avoid the biggest cleanup costs that can sometimes run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, per well, or more. He worries some level of government, and citizens, will eventually end up footing the bill for the cleanup, including those sites with land and water contamination issues.

WellsWells in the Orphan Well Association’s inventory
THE GLOBE AND MAIL SOURCE: Orphan well association

The industry acknowledges the dramatic oil-price decline – spurred by worldwide crude surpluses – is putting pressure on Alberta’s safety net for dealing with wells with no current economic value.

“The speed of the drop has really been challenging for the entire sector, globally,” said Brad Herald, a director of the Orphan Well Association and a vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

But Mr. Herald also emphasized that many currently inactive wells are still assets, not liabilities, and may be returned to productive use when the time is right. He also said that wells from bankrupted companies are often sold to more solvent players, and it’s not a given that wells from insolvent companies will end up as orphans.

“Whenever there are companies in receivership, there’s more risk that we ultimately might see more orphans – and there are some sizable companies in receivership. But there’s also a fair bit of interest in the packages right now,” he said.

“It is great opportunity for companies if there is some cash flow elasticity to build their portfolio.”

And in Alberta, safeguards are in place to make sure that the “polluter pays” principle is upheld. One safeguard is the Alberta Energy Regulator’s licensee liability rating (LLR) program, which uses a comparison of assets to cleanup liability costs. When the liabilities outweigh the assets, the company must put up a cash deposit for the difference.

Even when the government’s system doesn’t work, and individual companies go bankrupt without cleaning up their old sites – there is a fail-safe. The Orphan Well Association, funded by industry levies, is designed to provide a safety net when companies fail and there is no market for their assets. Over the past 25 years, the industry has put more than $200-million into properly sealing and cleaning up old sites.


In light of the

economic conditions and the increased workload for the association, Mr. Herald notes the industry has doubled the association’s annual budget to $30-million from the previous $15-million.

There are also requests from some quarters to the federal government for cash. Last month, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called on Ottawa to come up with $156-million to clean up 1,000 non-producing wells in his province as a job stimulus program. And this week the Petrole

um Services Association of Canada made a similar request for Alberta’s much more numerous wells – asking for $500-million in federal infrastructure dollars to put a dent in the association’s estim

ate of about 75,000 inactive wells requiring abandonment and surface reclamation, with the similar argument the plan will create jobs, retain expertise, and provide economic and environmental benefits.

There is a precedent for a government infusion of cash for a cleanup: In the global downturn of 2008, the Alberta government gave an extra $30-million to the Orphan Well Association for cleanup work.

Both Mr. Wall and the association say the extraordinary economic fragility in Western Canada’s economy demands this type of response – and are looking to next week’s federal budget for news. Even critics such as Mr. Wilson concede it might be cheaper to clean up many of these sites sooner rather than later.

However, the downturn in the energy industry has also created a new source of discontent among the farmers of Alberta, who for decades have been sharing their land with oil and gas companies. If there are no environmental problems, many landowners are happy to receive the “rents” energy firms pay for access to the land and to compensate farmers for their loss of use of it.

But a growing cohort of mostly smaller firms, many financially strapped, have stopped making these rent payments on their wells, especially in the last two years. In cases where energy companies don’t pay, the Alberta government is supposed to pay the landowner and chase after the company to be reimbursed.

The Surface Rights Board – a quasi-judicial body that helps resolve disputes between landowners and mineral rights holders – has been overwhelmed by an increase in work and costs related to unpaid rents.

The board paid out more than $1.7-million in 2015, compared with about $722,000 in 2014. Chairman Gerald Hawranik forecasts government-funded payouts to landowners for rents they are owed by energy companies will hit $3.5-million in the coming fiscal year.

“It has been escalating,” Mr. Hawranik said. “Almost every month there are more applications.”


Well cleanup proposal has merit

8 Mar 2016  Lethbridge Herald

The idea of putting federal money toward cleaning up old oil and gas wells continues to gain support. Last month, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall pitched a request for $156 million in federal funding to clean up non-producing wells in his province. Then this week, an energy industry group, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, announced it has asked Ottawa for $500 million in infrastructure dollars to clean up inactive oil and gas wells.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd threw her support behind the PSAC’s request, saying, “Good on them. That is one way to get Albertans back to work in the interim and it isn’t unprecedented.”

McCuaig-Boyd was referring to the $30 million the Alberta government contributed to cleaning up orphan wells during the last economic downturn in 2009.

We’ll have to wait and see if the Trudeau government’s first federal budget, to be announced next Tuesday, contains any money for such a proposal, but after Wall made his pitch in early February, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said there was a possibility Ottawa could help pay for such work. Carr noted while restoring habitat around inactive wells is the responsibility of the energy companies, he acknowledged the government is well aware of the need to restore jobs to regions hard hit by slumping oil prices.

The call for federal help to deal with these wells has merit. For one thing, when an oil company goes bankrupt, abandoned wells have no one to look after the rehabilitation process. Alberta reportedly has 700 such wells, and a Saskatchewan government spokesperson told Reuters it anticipates that 1,000 wells will be abandoned in addition to the 100 already-abandoned wells.

Wall said the federal program to assist with well cleanup could result in 1,200 jobs, direct and indirect, in the oil and gas support sector — jobs that are needed in view of the layoffs that have hit the oilpatch during the fall in oil prices.

McCuaig-Boyd also pointed to the jobs aspect of the idea.

“I think we could put a lot of folks to work in a fairly quick time because the skills are out there right now and it is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” she said.

In all, Alberta has some 75,000 wells that are no longer producing and $500 million would cover only a fraction of the work necessary to decommission that many wells, according to a Canadian Press story in Wednesday’s Herald.

But it would be a start, and as the proponents note, it would create jobs — jobs that are badly needed in the oilpatch right now, and for Alberta’s economy as a whole.

If the federal government has room in its 2016 budget for this proposal, it could be money well spent.

Comment on this editorial online at


Hope is blowing in the wind

18 Mar 2016   Lethbridge Herald

Bill Graveland


Alberta’s wind energy industry getting bigger role

There are three things one can be assured of in the Pincher Creek area of southwestern Alberta — death, taxes and the wind will blow.

Windswept is the word often used to describe the region with its rolling hills, cattle ranches, farms and the Rocky Mountains to the west.

And it is the wind that’s eliciting some optimism at a time when Canada is seeking to reduce its carbon footprint and turn to alternative energy sources.

With their giant 80-metre-high turbines stretching as far as the eye can see and 45metre-long blades turning gracefully in the breeze, wind farms are potentially a big beneficiary of changes promised by both the Alberta and federal governments.

“The wind is always blowing in southern Alberta it seems,” said Wayne Oliver, TransAlta’s operations supervisor for the region, which includes Fort Macleod.

“For the locals who have grown up around the wind from childhood, it’s just another day for them.”

TransAlta, Canada’s largest publicly traded power generator and marketer of electricity and renewable energy, has 460 wind turbines in the area. Some of the older models are being decommissioned and the pricetag for new ones isn’t cheap, running between $2 million and $5 million, depending on the output, which can be as much as three million watts of electricity per hour.

But Oliver said 100 megawatts of energy will supply the needs of about 120,000 homes.

He also said most people don’t understand where their electricity comes from.

“The general public just wants to know that when they hit the switch the lights will come on and they can cook supper when they get home from work.”

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Alberta’s plan to impose a broad carbon tax and eventually end coalfired electricity generation, wind energy is getting increased attention.

“We have a long-term, viable resource in the quantity of wind that blows through southern Alberta,” Oliver said.

“Until we get to the point that we’d have large-scale battery storage of wind energy, wind is always going to be supplemental to a base power load structure,” he added.

“In Alberta we have coal and natural gas, we have some hydro. These are our baseload generators and wind can nicely supplement that for the time being.”

TransAlta said last month that plans to invest in hydroelectric, wind, solar and natural gas co-generation facilities in Alberta were “on hold” until the details of the province’s climate change plans are known.


Proposed transmission line threatens heritage rangeland

21 Feb 2016

Lethbridge Herald  LETTERS

Southwestern Alberta is more than a place to live; it’s the heart and soul of Alberta’s heritage rangeland. It’s an increasingly rare piece of Alberta’s once vast natural capital. Plants, birds and animals that are threatened on the nearby landscape thrive here because of landowners’ careful stewardship.

The ecological health of this land forms the foundation on which geotourism operators — including B&Bs, fishing guides and equestrian trail riders — build businesses.

This landscape’s arresting, unspoiled beauty attracts film companies and Hollywood producers. These same virtues are the reason Travel Alberta, showcasing the world-class appeal of southwestern Alberta, markets it around the world.

AltaLink proposes to have the people of Alberta spend $750 million to erect a new transmission line that invades this iconic heritage viewscape and industrializes the headwaters of the Oldman watershed. I ask these questions: 1. How can it be, especially in times of acute economic uncertainty, that AltaLink can propose to build a lattice-tower array that isn’t needed, plan to locate it the worst possible place, and expect Albertans to pay for the product?

2. Do Albertans want to spend the better part of $1 billion to erect an ugly, steel-and-wire electrical substation at heaven’s gate?

One profound reason this headwaters landscape is without industrial development is this: Landowners, government fish and wildlife officials, land trusts, and environmental not-for-profits have invested time and money to protect wildlife habitat, native grasslands and forests of ancient limber pines.

One of AltaLink’s proposed routes, if realized, would carve an industrial route through, or be located directly adjacent to, eight conservation easements. In other words, what society has laboured to protect for posterity, AltaLink has chosen to degrade for short-term corporate profit … doing this with the expectation that the people of Alberta will accept the destruction and pick up the bill.

We can’t let this happen. We can’t allow AltaLink to devalue Alberta’s premier viewscapes and diminish this region’s sustainable rural economy, or put land, groundwater resources, native grasslands and the health of livestock and wildlife at further risk.

David McIntyre

Crowsnest Pass


Landowners oppose transmission line

21 Feb 2016

Lethbridge Herald

J.W. Schnarr

[email protected]


A group opposed to transmission line development planned for the Pincher Creek area say while they support the development of renewable energy, the Chapel Rock transmission line is an expensive and unnecessary burden that will be forced onto the shoulders of ratepayers.

Ted Smith, president of the Livingstone Landowners Guild, said an analysis of the project by the group has identified a number of concerns.

“Our main concern is that it is completely not needed,” he said. “The need for this line was decided in 2008, and things have drastically changed since then.”

In a Feb. 7 news release, the guild stated the cost of the project has increased from $180 million eight years ago to $750 million currently.

They also state the line is no longer needed, as previous projects in the area have lapsed or been abandoned. Turbine technology has also changed to the point where turbines can operate in less-wind proof areas, closer to current transmission lines.

More equitable distribution would also add to reliability and consistency of power delivery, according to the release.

Another major criticism of the line is the belief it would degrade the tourism and aesthetic value of the area, as well as be an unnecessary intrusion on environmentallysensitive land.

The guild states the development is in violation of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, which directs industrial development to use “existing disturbed corridors.”

Smith said the guild is not against development, but that they try to support development that “makes sense, and that can be aesthetically, environmentally, and economically.

“We’re not an anti – (development) group,” he said. “We’re very much support it. Our group started out with some oil and gas proposals, and we just worked with the companies and got them to (develop) in a more sensible fashion.”

Smith said as it stands, there is no way the guild can support the line.

“It’s totally ridiculous,” he said. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

He added the group consulted with engineers who stated the job could be done in a different manner that would cost far less.

The Livingstone Landowners Guild is comprised of ranchers, acreage-owners, local business operators, and others interested in maintaining the aesthetic and ecological virtues and quality of life of local residents. Currently, Smith said there are as many as 90 families involved in the organization.

“It’s just all local people that have come together to support good development and oppose things that are being done badly,” he said.

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter


Betting the farm on big data Agriculture industry using innovation to boost yields and profits

14 Feb 2016   Lethbridge Herald    Ian Bickis THE CANADIAN PRESS — CALGARY

The family farm is going high-tech. From robotic milking machines to datagathering drones, industry watchers say technology is making agriculture more precise and efficient as farmers push for increased profits and yields.

Associated Press photo In this Sept. 18, 2014 photo, with the drone’s camera aimed at himself, Dwight, Ill., farmer Matt Boucher demonstrates the maneuverability of the craft at his farm. The family farm is going high-tech. From robotic milking machines to data-gathering drones, industry watchers say technology is making agriculture more precise and efficient as farmers push for increased profits and yields.“There’s a whole confluence of technologies that are adding a lot of value on the farm quickly,” said Aki Georgacacos, co-founder of Calgary-based Avrio Capital.

The venture capital firm focuses on agriculture and food innovations, and Georgacacos says changes like fine-detailed mapping and sensors for everything from soil moisture to fuel use are just beginning.

“We’re not even scratching the surface,” he said, adding an older generation of farmers have been slow to adopt new techniques. But that’s changing. “Right now we’re at a bit of an inflection point, where we’ve moved beyond early adopters and we’re moving now into fast followers, and so we’re getting to a point where the rate at which some of this technology is accepted is accelerating.”

On Monday, Avrio Capital finished raising $110 million in late-stage venture capital that it plans to invest in the next wave of farm-tech companies.

One of them is Fredericton, N.B.-based Resson Aerospace, which has developed drone-based crop monitoring to know when fields need to be sprayed or watered.

Another is Winnipeg-based Farmers Edge, which 10 years ago was based out of Wade Barnes’s basement in rural Manitoba, where he and cofounder Curtis MacKinnon were pushing to make local farms more efficient.

Barnes started introducing farmers to technology that allowed them to apply varying amounts of fertilizer on their fields depending on where it was most needed.

“That was quite revolutionary back in 2005,” Barnes said in an interview.

Today, the company has evolved into what Barnes says is one of the biggest in the world working in farm data management, using cloud computing to crunch numbers from soil sensors, satellite imagery, weather stations and other inputs to make farms more efficient.

In January, Farmers Edge secured a $58-million investment from investors including Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co. and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“The next big revolution in agriculture is big data,” said Barnes from southern Russia, where he was setting up another satellite office for the company now operating on four continents.

Already, he said, farmers are seeing 30 per cent increases in productivity by using the data available, and the technology is only getting more accessible. A system that five years ago would have cost $15 to $25 an acre now costs under $5, said Barnes.

Cheaper technology and advancements in productivity are more important than ever as pressure mounts on the world’s food systems, says Viacheslav Adamchuk, an associate professor in McGill University’s bioresource engineering department.

“We are not going to see more arable land; land is all allocated. The population is growing, the climate is changing,” he said.

Adamchuk’s research has focused on sensor technology in farming, which he says has come down dramatically in price in recent years while at the same time growing in precision.

He estimates that farmers can shave off at least 10 per cent — and upwards of 40 per cent — of their input costs on things like fertilizer, seeds and water thanks to global positioning systems and sensors that allow them to use those resources only where needed.

“You can maintain the same yield with less inputs,” said Adamchuk.

Stan Blade, dean of the University of Alberta’s faculty of agricultural, life and environmental sciences, says innovation is key for the future of farming.

“The farmers who succeed are the ones who are going to incorporate new technologies,” he said.

“Auto-steered tractors, yield monitors on combines — I mean we’re all using those things now because it just makes us that much more efficient. They decrease labour, they make things more efficient, they make things safer, so it just presents a whole array of new opportunities for producers that are involved in generating these yields.”


Which alternate energy sources make most sense?


14 Feb 2016   Lethbridge Herald

I thank Mr. Schaupmeyer for his cost assessment of the application of wind turbines to our future energy needs, with back-up energy facilities and without coal-sourced electricity ( Jan. 28). I also thank Mr. Voutsinos for his considerations when gas turbines are the main back-up to wind turbines (Feb. 6). The contributions relate to the following recent events:

1. On Nov. 20, 2015, the Alberta Climate Change Advisory Panel submitted its recommendations to the Minister of Environment;

2. Two days later Alberta government announced the phaseout of coal burning electricity plants in 15 years;

3. On Dec. 12, 2015, most countries of 195 agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (Paris agreement). The present technology of burning coal is a major source of greenhouse gases and needs to be phased out globally. Which energy source(s) do we choose as the best replacement for coal plants? These plants supply some 55 per cent of our electricity. With respect to intermittent energy from wind, the back-up energy may be sourced from the following:

1. Thousands of wind turbines in many locations in Alberta; or

2. Natural gas turbines with greenhouse gas emissions; or

3. Nuclear power with unresolved waste issue; 4. Combination of the above. The following alternate sources of back-up energy do not apply in Alberta: 1. Hydro (not enough); 2. Biomass (not enough, costly, and misuse of organic matter);

3. Geothermal (remote locations and too costly);

4. Solar (not enough for 3-4 months of the year and too costly, as yet).

Which combination of energy sources makes the most economic and environmental sense? Which combination is sustainable?

Future electrical energy secured without cheap coal will be expensive. Unsubsidized prices for electricity will control consumption, a form of demand management to reduce emissions.

The German government is convening a “round table” of key players — including unions, energy firms and environmentalists — to develop a schedule for the exit of its 40 coal-burning power plants by 2040. This schedule is to be completed in 2016.

Klaus Jericho



Why does wind-energy industry need subsidies?


14 Feb 2016  Lethbridge Herald

In his Monday’s sermon “Praise the Wind” (Feb 8/16), Mr. Hornung, the president of Canadian Wind Energy Association, claims that wind turbines: don’t cause health issues; kill only a very few birds; don’t need continuing shadowing from other electricity sources; that their costs are decreasing; that wind energy today is competitive; and that wind is free.

If all of these claims are true, why then does the wind industry need subsidies, preferential treatment and carbon certificates to make it viable? Why is Mr. Hornung trying to obtain the $20-billion contracts for wind power to be irrevocable for 20 years?

The time has come when Mr. Hornung needs to put his money where his mouth is. How about including in the contracts a clause that in the event that electricity prices increase at rates faster than inflation, the irrevocability of his contracts will become null and void. The government of the day could then follow the example of U.K., Germany and Spain and cancel these contracted subsidies without penalty.

The problem is Mr. Hornung will go on damage control instead, because sanity and rationalism have been cast aside and the whole arena is now a political and ideological battleground whose main protagonists understand nothing about how power generation works.

A few years from now, when power blackouts are complemented by high electricity prices, people will learn the consequences of these actions, but it will have been the hard way.

Cosmos Voutsinos



Tech advances aid wind energy

By Schnarr, J.W. on February 8, 2016.


[email protected]

Alberta’s plans for wind energy are a sign the province is becoming part of a larger global movement toward renewables, says the president of Canada’s wind energy association.

“Wind is now very much a mainstream power generation technology,” said Robert Hornung, president of Canadian Wind Energy Association.

“Today, wind energy is competitive with any form of electricity generation with the potential exception of natural gas,” he added. “And that’s only if you consider no carbon pricing or if you don’t think the price of natural gas will go up in the next 25 years.

“Alberta is not doing something that no one else has done. They’re following what we’re really seeing as a global trend.”

Hornung cited complaints that wind energy is problematic due to the variable nature of generation. A recent article in The Herald spoke about how new wind projects would have to be backed up with wasteful backup energy projects. Hornung said that is not the case.

“There’s a common misperception that when you build a variable generation source, like wind, then you need something to match it one-to-one,” he said.

Hornung said current systems already in place also have functioning backups built in.

“In Alberta today, if a coal plant shuts down tomorrow, you still need to provide power,” he said. “So there are backup reserves to allow that.

“Those backup reserves can also be used to manage the variability of sources like wind.”

Hornung said although wind does ultimately need to be partnered with another energy source, the amount of pairing needed is much less than commonly assumed.

He said any energy source being partnered with wind should be flexible, and easy to ramp up and down based on need. And while natural gas inside Alberta would certainly work, projects outside of Alberta have seen pairings with hydro electric energy and development of storage technology, allowing the wind energy to essentially back up itself.

“There’s a range of different solutions,” he said. “But in Alberta, it’s going to make sense that natural gas plays an important role in that.”

Hornung said while turbine design has not changed in years, the costs associated with generating electricity have fallen significantly.

“In the United States, it has been estimated the cost from wind has fallen 61 per cent in the past six years.”

One of the reasons for this reduction in cost is wind turbines are taller than they were in the past, allowing for longer fan blades. Another is the material used by designers has improved, making the turbines stronger and more efficient

Other types of advances being seen in the industry include lightweighting the turbines and improved data management for integration and adaptation.

A common issue for people opposing wind energy involve the perceived damage to local wildlife, as birds and bats can sometimes be killed by turbines.

Hornung said it is an issue the industry takes seriously, and one they are working toward minimizing. However, he said critics often miss the context of animal deaths when compared to other risks.

“Are there bird deaths around wind turbines?” he asked. “Absolutely. Per turbine, it’s going to be (four to six) bird deaths per year.”

He noted when compared to other dangers for birds, such as skyscrapers, transmission towers and even house cats, turbines represent a very small danger to the creatures. And the largest danger to birds is something wind energy is designed to combat.

“The largest single threat to birds today is climate change,” said Hornung. “You can certainly argue that wind can help in terms of helping address that challenge.”

He said a larger challenge exists protecting bat populations, as there is less known about their behaviour. Hornung said those involved in wind energy have been heavily involved with scientists who study bats, and work is ongoing.

“It certainly would be incorrect to say there are no impacts,” he said. “But it’s important to put those into context and it’s important to the industry to do as much as they can to mitigate those impacts.

Finally, Hornung addressed the myth that wind turbines cause health issues. He said the concensus among scientists is there are no links between wind turbines and human health.

“Actually, the most comprehensive study was done by Health Canada last year,” he said. “The one thing they did find was that wind turbines can cause annoyance.”

For more information on wind energy, visit or


Stable power grid requires reserve capacity

By Letter to the Editor on February 6, 2016.

Re: “Correcting wind energy errors,” by Robert Hornung, president CanWEA, Jan. 23.

Mr. Hornung, perhaps unintentionally, ended up misleading Albertans with his letter. Yes, in order for the grid to be stable and reliable, some kind of reserve capacity is always required, ready to kick in when one of the stations has a problem or shutdown. However, the amount of capacity reserve is defined by the current potential unreliability of the electricity-producing stations in a grid. The higher the unreliability, the higher the needed capacity reserve.

Currently Alberta’s grid is supplied by high-reliability gas and coal power plants that don’t shut down when a cloud passes, at sunset, or when the wind drops. If we go ahead and increase the renewables to supply 30 per cent of the grid, it means that we will be increasing the grid’s unreliability and as a result, we will need a higher number of gas-powered plants to be on stand-by. These reserves will have to be at least 30 per cent of the grid, thus duplicating capital and operating costs and hence increasing our electricity bills.

Having gas-fired plants on spinning reserve, means these gas power plants will run inefficiently continuously, producing little or no power in order to be ready. Running the spinning reserve not only increases the cost but also continuously emits CO2 to our atmosphere from the gas turbines that need to be shadowing unreliable wind power.

Considering the CO2 emissions resulting from the making of the steel towers and concrete bases of the wind turbines, plus the continuing necessity to shadow them with gas turbines, a question needs to be answered: “Does wind power contribute anything more than increased costs of electricity, higher redundancy, and a need for subsidies, all without saving the significant amount of CO2 from our environment, as promised?”

The Energy Collegium stands behind the accuracy of its statements and invites Mr. Hornung to send his experts to Lethbridge where we can help them understand the differences between “regulation reserve,” “capacity reserve” and “spinning reserve” of a grid system. This should help the president of CanWEA to stop confusing the different meanings of these terms.

Cosmos Voutsinos



Energy use, emissions to rise, says NEB report

28 Jan 2016 Lethbridge Herald
Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada will continue to grow over the next 24 years regardless of whether oil prices rise or pipeline projects are built, a report from the National Energy Board says.
“Scenarios like high or low oil and natural gas prices, or whether or not we build pipelines or we build LNG terminals … are not sufficient to put Canada on a path to declining greenhouse gas emissions,” said board chairman and CEO Peter Watson, who presented the report’s findings to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
The study released Wednesday takes a long-term view of the country’s energy future and expects power consumption to grow by about 20 per cent by 2040.
The markets will supply Canada’s demand for energy, and fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are anticipated to increase. Fluctuating oil prices or possible future development of pipelines don’t necessarily impact this, Watson said.
The report offers a number of projections.
Under one scenario, it expects oil prices to climb to US$80 per barrel in four years, with that rising to US$105 per barrel by 2040. In that case, Canadian energy production is forecast to increase 56 per cent to 6.1 million barrels daily by 2040. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecast daily production at 3.9 million barrels last year.
If no new pipelines are built during that time, oil production would be 5.6 million barrels daily by 2040.


Emissions cut will come at a cost for Albertans

26 Jan 2016 Lethbridge Herald
A new study has found that Alberta’s climate change initiatives would result in big emission reductions but power producers would need significantly higher renewable rates to justify building wind and solar power.
The report, prepared by utilities consultant EDC Associates Ltd., looked at the impact of the NDP government’s plan to phase out coal power by 2030 and source 30 per cent of energy from renewable sources.
It found that the boost in renewables and the end of coal would mean a 45 per cent reduction in emissions, or 18.5 million fewer tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere a year.
However, under the province’s privatized utility system, prices for renewable power would have to be between $60 to $85 per megawatt hour to justify wind power construction.
And if solar power were to make up 50 per cent of the renewables mix, power producers would need prices of between $200 and $300 per megawatt hour for solar, the study found.
Those high-rate renewable prices would fall under a separate pricing system that would encourage renewable energy installation.
The report also found that the early closure of coal power plants would mean power producers lose out on anywhere between $3 billion and $16 billion in gross operating margin, depending on how much future earnings are valued and how many years of lost production are compensated.
The NDP government has not made a clear commitment to compensate producers for the early closure of coal-fired power plants, but it has said it would treat producers “fairly” and not “unnecessarily strand capital.”
Allen Crowley, co-author of the study at EDC, said he wasn’t making any policy recommendations and was simply trying to figure out the impact of the new plan. His one recommendation was for the government to take things slow.
“The policy choices are so complicated that they really shouldn’t be going quite so fast,” said Crowley.
“It’s just too big of a thing. It’s a great, big, huge cruise ship that you’re pulling into harbour at 100 miles an hour. It’s not a good strategy.”


New electricity plan a waste of Albertans’ money

28 Jan 2016 Lethbridge Herald – Letters to the Editor

Re: “Correcting wind energy errors,” Jan. 23 Herald.

Robert Hornung, president of CanWEA, discussed “reserves” in a failed effort to pretend all is well in wind’s fantasyland. His mission was to divert attention from the fact that Albertans will pay billions for CanWEA’s and the government’s green dreams. Hornung also failed to mention that CanWEA has asked your Alberta government for subsidies as wind can’t compete because of its abysmal performance.

The annual output of wind is an unreliable 30 per cent of its nameplate capacity, but output varies a lot. For example, the weekly report for Jan. 14 to 20 showed that wind produced a pathetic 19 per cent of its capacity. Worse still, for 50 hours that week, wind produced effectively no electricity! Read the grim statistics in AESO’s weekly reports at

The government proposes to close coal plants by 2030, stating, “Two-thirds … replaced by renewable energy; one-third … by natural gas.” Most of the renewable electricity will come from wind. About 12,000 MW of new turbines will be needed to produce two-thirds of coal’s soon-to be lost 44,000 GW of power. Recently, CanWEA told our government that we need up to 15,000 MW of new renewables, including 9,000 MW of wind.

CanWEA reports that turbines cost over $2 million per megawatt. Thus, using CanWEA’s own figures, the necessary turbines will cost at least $20 billion and Albertans will pay one way or another. In addition, customers will pay billions for new transmission lines that Alberta Energy said will be needed to integrate wind. Then add a few billion for extra gas capacity and 10 billion tax dollars to buy out coal plants forced to close 30 years before the government originally planned.

We will be forced to rely solely on volatile natural gas to supply electricity during wind’s almost-daily failures. Unlike in Ontario and the U.K., Albertans do not have the luxury of a nuclear baseload. Electricity in “green” Germany costs about four times more than in Alberta, yet, they still rely on coal for 40 per cent of their power. Because of renewables’ unreliability, Germany continues to build new coal plants, the newest opening just weeks ago. Yet, our government, counselled by CanWEA, will close reliable coal.

The government’s new electricity plan will cost Albertans tens of billions of dollars directly and indirectly. Our money would be better spent on important needs. For example, the waiting period for an MRI in Shannon Phillips’ riding is nine months. A disgrace.

Clive Schaupmeyer



Wind energy has issues

By Schnarr, J.W. on January 18, 2016.

Clive Schaupmeyer spoke at the Foothills Little Bow Municipal Associaton about potential problems with the cost of wind power versus fossil fuel sources of electricity generation.

J.W. Schnarr


[email protected]

Alberta’s shift to renewable energy and away from coal is going to be bad news for Albertans, members of the Foothills Little Bow Municipal Association heard Friday.

Outdoorsman and author Clive Schaupmeyer represents a local group called the “Energy Colegium” – a group of retired professionals with a wide range of backgrounds with the goal of looking at factors regarding increasing electrical costs, and to provide municipalities with information on the electricity sector.

Schaupmeyer said the plan put forward by the province is to eliminate coal use and replace that lost energy with wind and natural gas.

“Wind and gas are key to the Alberta climate leadership plan,” he said.

“(But) is there a pot of gold out there? Or is it going to cost us a pot of gold?” he asked.

“The plan was produced in weeks in time for Paris,” said Schaupmeyer. “It may be well intentioned, but not well thought out.”

Schaupmeyer noted many people don’t realize the actual cost of renewable energy and how the plan to end coal use is going to bite into their wallets.

“We’re not saying (renewables) don’t work,” he said. “We’re saying they are expensive.”

One issue with wind farms is spatial distribution, meaning wind farms are spread out over a large area. Power has to be gathered and transported over large distances.

“In Alberta, we have the capacity for 1,463 Mw of wind, and we gather that over a huge area,” he said, noting wind energy production is gathered from an area the size of The Netherlands in southern Alberta.

Often, wind generation is only able to hit an average of 30 per cent of capacity due to periods where it slips below the five per cent threshold (considered to be zero output). That instability in power levels is a major issue for supplying power to Albertans.

In contrast, the Sheerness generating station near Hanna has a capacity of 780 Mw.

“It provides more electricity than all the wind turbines in Alberta,” Schaupmeyer said, adding coal generation also has stable output.

Another issue with wind power is that it must be backed up due to the intermittent nature of power generation. Backup is handled through the use of natural gas, but it causes a redundancy in the system as wind power and natural gas power then overlap.

“We duplicate that capacity,” said Schaupmeyer. “When you build a wind farm, you better have something to back it up.

“Wind will often be effectively redundant, and all of our electricity will be coming from natural gas when the wind is not blowing.”

Schaupmeyer compared renewable energy costs in Europe, showing how the cost of energy increased the more renewable energy was added to the system.

“How many have heard how wonderful renewables are in Germany?” he asked. “In 2014, Germany got 43 per cent of its power from coal. More than half of that is lignite.”

He said the renewable push in Germany has essentially doubled the cost of power in that country.

“And remember, Germany still has that baseload of coal that’s going to be taken away from Albertans,” he said.

“Intermittent unreliable wind has not replaced conventional fuel anywhere on Earth,” he added.

Schaupmeyer also pointed out the companies which own the bulk of wind production in the province, such as TransAlta, Enbridge, Enmax, and others, are also involved in natural gas for electricity generation.

It has been reported in the media that Alberta’s climate plan could result in $30 billion in investment in wind and natural gas electricity generation.

“So we build huge numbers of subsidized wind farms, then what do we do?” he asked. “Then we build gas generators to back up the ineffective wind. Duplication and redundancy.

“It’s really great if you are in both businesses.”

While some may point out that energy companies build the infrastructure for energy projects Schaupmeyer said those costs are inevitably passed down to Albertans.

“Sooner or later, you will pay,” he said.

Livingstone Macleod MLA Pat Stier was in attendance and said the presentation confirmed many of the things he has been hearing about renewable energy production.

“They confirmed most of the reports we’ve seen in media where, again, the failed policy that the government is trying to promote to replace coal generation and gas generation to a large extent, by renewables, will not work, is not economically viable and will cost this province billions of dollars,” he said.

“It’s nice and refreshing to see some real numbers instead of the less-than-truthful policies the government has been giving us.”


St. Albert feels tremors from earthquake near Fox Creek

By Emily Mertz and Caley Ramsay Global News

The Alberta Energy Regulator confirmed a 4.8-magnitude earthquake happened near Fox Creek Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

EDMONTON – Tremors from an earthquake near Fox Creek, Alta. Tuesday were felt as far away as St. Albert, about 280 kilometres away.

The Alberta Energy Regulator confirmed the 4.8-magnitude earthquake, and initially said it was caused by hydraulic fracking. But the AER later backed away, saying it could not confirm the cause, only that it happened in an area where fracking occurs.


The AER has sent a team of investigators to the site, owned by a company called Repsol. The company has ceased operations in the area and will not be allowed to resume fracking until AER gives the go-ahead, according to AER spokesperson Carrie Rosa.

Natural Resources Canada’s preliminary findings measured the earthquake at a 4.5 magnitude. NRC said the earthquake happened at 11:27 a.m. (MST) Tuesday about 31 kilometres west of Fox Creek.

NRC said the quake was “lightly felt” in Fox Creek and St. Albert. There were no reports of damage.

“It felt like a large truck driving by,” said Fox Creek operations manager Roy Dell. “Some saw pictures shake on the wall. The Town of Fox Creek is disappointed to hear of another seismic event.”

Cory Sinclair works for the City of St. Albert. He was on the third floor of St. Albert Place when he felt a jolt at around 11:30 a.m.

“I felt a bit of a shake in the building and they were doing a bit of work on the main floor so I thought perhaps it was associated with that, and there was also a door just down the hall so I thought someone has slammed that door,” Sinclair said.

“But afterwards I realized it was in fact a tremor that we had felt.”

Sinclair said it was one single shake, not a continued shake.

“Someone had jokingly said that it might have been an earthquake, but we never suspected that at all until one of our colleagues informed us that they had heard report of seismic activity,” Sinclair said.

Ken Munroe works in St. Albert’s Campbell Business Park. He said he was sitting at his desk, working away, when he felt the quake.

“Suddenly the building shook,” he said. “It was just a bump… It felt like a truck hit the wall or something like that. It was a noticeable enough bump that the monitors shook a little bit.”

Munroe said the shake was very quick and only lasted about two seconds.

“We were sort of thinking, ‘Is it an earthquake? Is it an aftershock? How big is it? Or is it just something falling on the floor?’” he said with a laugh.

“The funny thing is that I said, ‘This feels like an earthquake.’ And, you know, everyone just started laughing at me.”

It’s not unusual for earthquakes to be reported in the Fox Creek area. There have been about 200 quakes in the area since December 2013. Alberta averages 30 earthquakes each year.

Last year, there were two 4.4 magnitude earthquakes in the area. Authorities said both quakes were the result of hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry.

READ MORE: Another earthquake in Fox Creek raises concerns over hydraulic fracking 

The premier is asking that an Alberta Energy Regulator review of fracking be sped up.

“My officials have been in touch with the AER to find out exactly what the situation is and where we can get more details on that,” Notley said.

“Generally speaking the AER has been engaged in a review of fracking in particular as it relates to this issue and I’ll be asking them to speed that review up a little bit more to come up with some recommendations that we can consider sooner rather than later.”

The AER announced new requirements in February 2015, after several seismic events in the Fox Creek area. If a seismic event measuring 4.0 or greater occurs within five kilometres of an operator, it must cease operations and inform the AER. If a seismic event between 2.0 and 4.0 occurs, operators must inform AER and invoke their response plan.

The AER reports three events measuring 4.0 or greater in 2015: Jan. 14 (4.23), Jan. 23 (4.61) and June 13 (4.26).

Fox Creek is 263 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

With files from Slav Kornik, Sarah Kraus, Global News and The Canadian Press. 

*Editor’s note: The Alberta Energy Regulator originally told Global News the earthquake was due to hydraulic fracking. However, the AER later said it could not confirm that. 

© Shaw Media, 2016


Letters: Notley deserves credit over Bill 6

Edmonton Journal
Published on: December 22, 2015 | Last Updated: December 22, 2015 3:47 PM MST

At the Alberta legislature on Dec. 3, 2015, Premier Rachel Notley explains the many exemptions for Bill 6 and apologizes for poor communication to farmers and ranchers that has lead to confusion. Ryan Jackson / Edmonton Journal

Notley deserves credit over Bill 6

As an agricultural producer, I was appalled at the anti-Bill 6 demonstrations at the legislature, the lineups of expensive machinery and especially the death threats made against Premier Rachel Notley, her cabinet ministers and other NDP members.

Once fully implemented, this bill would protect the rights and safety concerns of farm employees. This should have been in place years ago; after all, it is a human rights law. Agriculture was the only industry in Alberta that did not have this protection, and Alberta the only province that did not do so.

Although I have never voted NDP, I applaud Notley and her party for their initiative. Regardless of party affiliation, recognize her progressive advance in agriculture and let her party know your positive feelings on this important bill.

Maurice L. Parrent, Clyde

Canada’s firearms laws are robust

Re: “Crack down on rapid-fire weapons,” Letters, Ron Charach, Dec. 22

The letter writer is completely misinformed as to Canada’s extensive firearms control legislation.

You cannot simply show up at a gun store and buy one; you must take a firearms safety course. Once you have passed the exam, you apply for a firearms licence, where you need to supply character references — who, 100 per cent for certain, are called by the RCMP. The licence application takes four to six months.

As for handguns, you can only legally own one if you are a certified collector or belong to a shooting range. There are extensive requirements for storage and transportation of firearms.

The problem with Canada’s gun laws is they tend to target law-abiding owners and do nothing to keep firearms away from those who’d use them for criminal purposes.

Mark Stead, Sherwood Park

Cartoons insulting to Premier Notley

Re: Malcolm Mayes cartoons

I am surprised that a newspaper which has won journalism awards would continually print insulting, demeaning pictures about our premier. I don’t call them cartoons because they are not funny.

They’re mean, unkind, unfair and meant to belittle the competent Rachel Notley and her government. I am not surprised that Mayes does it, but I am surprised the Journal continually prints this stuff.

Frank Parker, St. Albert

Could do more for beleaguered merchants

Re: ” ‘Cash mob’ aims to boost shops hurt by bridge delays,” Dec. 10

The recent comment attributed to Coun. Scott McKeen really underscores just how little regard this city council has for 102nd Avenue merchants affected by the prolonged closure of the bridge over Groat Road.

Area merchants have been hard-pressed to keep their doors open because of the apparent blundering of the contractor in installing bridge girders in the first place. To further exacerbate the merchants’ dire financial situation, the purported opening of the new bridge is October 2016 — about a full year later than originally set. This is extraordinary, and requires compensation.

What reeks is the rather cavalier manner in which the thought of compensation to merchants was cast aside as being a “can of worms” council did not want to open. The City of Edmonton is not only continuing to collect taxes from the merchants, but is also collecting late penalties of $11,500 per day as the contractor has failed to meet the deadline. The subsequent silence on this matter is deafening. One day of a cash mob rally is clearly not going to ease the pain.

I’m glad I live in St. Albert, where ignorance at this level only surfaces on rare occasions.

Robert M. Claney, St. Albert

Tears cannot undo damage to others

Re: “Boy weeps as charges read in court,” Dec. 22

Everything we do, right or wrong, has a price that we could never imagine. That is what a 13-year-old boy has learned, and tears cannot undo a crime against other human beings.

Kenneth T. Tellis, Mississauga, ON

We’re more welcoming than letter indicates

Re: “Unbridled growth nothing to celebrate,” Letters, P.J. Cotterill, Dec. 21

So if the letter writer had her way, the wonderful 65,835 folks choosing to call Edmonton and the rest of Alberta home in 2014-15 are only welcome if they’re directed and confined to live in infill, refurbished and renovated properties? Well, actually a welcoming environment like ours sees fit to enable new Albertans and their families to own the home of their choice.

Is she correct in assuming municipalities only receive residential taxes to pay for infrastructure? Municipalities also receive millions through commercial-industrial business taxes, provincial grants and federal funding.

I suppose if she had her way, new Edmonton signage would read: “All welcome as long as you live where we say and in what we tell you.”

Rick Preston, executive director, Urban Development Institute, Edmonton Region

Consult with Albertans on climate issues

After reading the Climate Leadership Report and the government documents on their Climate Leadership Plan, I have concerns.

The report recommends a tax at the pumps of seven cents, on top of the already increased fuel tax of 13 cents. It also recommends homeowners and business owners pay a new natural gas carbon tax of $1.68 per gigajoule.

For January to November 2015, my average cost for natural gas was $2.93 per gigajoule. Now the government wants to increase my heating costs by 57 per cent — for what? I can’t reduce my home heating cost any further or I’ll freeze. While the report did not specify what additional cost will be implemented for electricity, it did indicate there should only be a small change.

No amount of increased tax will cause residents to reduce the amount they use their vehicles or heat their homes. The report suggests the government use some of the revenue from increased carbon taxes for a rebate to lower- and middle-income residents to offset the increased costs resulting from the new carbon taxes (the report suggests additional annual costs of $500 in 2018 to $900 in 2030). If these residents can’t afford the new taxes in the first place, why charge them at all? Also, wouldn’t a rebate negate any intended impact of the carbon tax?

The government now suggests closure of coal-fired electricity plants well before their natural lifespan — at what additional cost to taxpayers, not to mention the human cost?

Nowhere in the government website documents is there any mention of the costs I have outlined above. Given the communication mistakes they made with Bill 6, the government should at least consult with Albertans.

Arthur Hagan, Edmonton

Emperor Trump has no clothes

Can someone please find a child to tell Americans the emperor has no clothes? How long will Donald Trump be allowed to denigrate and embarrass his fellow citizens?

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, the emperor’s tailor pretends to outfit him with a new suit, but he’s actually naked. Still, all the yes-men tell him what a beautiful suit it is. The emperor can’t see the suit either, but he listens to the yes-men until a child calls out, “But the Emperor has no clothes!”

Surely everyone recognizes the clown that Trump is — a foolhardy, rich braggart with so much money he can afford to either buy anyone out or blaspheme anyone who stands in his way. His last tirade against Hillary Clinton about her bathroom break was so crude and offensive on every level that I believe that’s where Trump’s campaign should now end — in the toilet, clothes or no clothes.

G.A. Teske, Sherwood Park

Parties of all stripes ban comments

Re: “So much for consulting people,” Letters, Marika Pender, Dec. 21

I can empathize with the letter writer because I was outright banned from commenting on Stephen Harper’s Facebook page this year. I emailed the PMO and was allowed to post messages, but only for a short time before I was banned completely. Every time I tried, the screen went blank.

Clearly, the banning of commentary is not the exclusive territory of Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

Ron Bereznicki, Edmonton


Bill 6 Was Communicated To Albertans Poorly: Notley

The Huffington Post Alberta  |  By Sarah Rieger

Posted: 12/16/2015 2:29 pm EST Updated: 12/16/2015 2:59 pm EST

Bill 6 may have passed, but debates on the controversial farm safety bill are far from over.

On Tuesday, nearly 300 people gathered on the snowy steps of the Alberta legislature to protest the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers legislation.

“It’s not even about the bill anymore. It’s about the Alberta advantage. Where did we lose track of that along the way?” rancher Kim Keely told the Edmonton Journal. “Everybody knew safety legislation was coming, but nobody asked us what we thought about it.”

Another day, another #Bill6 rally. #yeg #abag #ableg

— Ted Bauer (@tedgbauer) December 15, 2015

Rural Albertans have been afraid the bill, which passed its third reading in the legislature on Thursday, will threaten family farms by forcing them to buy expensive insurance to cover children and volunteers.

Premier Rachel Notley says she’s willing to accept full responsibility for the anger over the bill, and acknowledged that her government needs to mend some fences with rural Albertans.

“We have to take responsibility ourselves for the fact that we created a certain amount of confusion in how we originally communicated and we allowed families to be in a position where they were worrying about what the impact of these changes would be on their family farm,” Notley told the Calgary Herald.

The government says that the bill was intended to offer workers’ compensation benefits and occupational health and safety rules for only paid farm employees, and that coverage for family members and volunteers would be optional.

However, that messaging hasn’t been consistent. When the bill was announced, as well as in a Workers Compensation Board (WCB) document released a few weeks later, the government said farm volunteers and children would be subject to the same rules and coverage.

“We have to take responsibility ourselves for the fact that we created a certain amount of confusion in how we originally communicated.”

Amendments were later added to make the legislation more clear, but the damage from poor communication was already done.

Wildrose labour critic Grant Hunter told CBC News he feels as if the NDP was making up the details of the bill as they went along.

“When you read it, it’s fairly clear what their intent was,” Hunter said of the initially misleading WCB document.

The bill is set to become law on Jan. 1, but farmers and ranchers continue to voice their opposition, including at a town hall meeting in Coaldale on Tuesday.

There’s not a lot we can do now that the bill has passed. However, we can be in control of some of the regulations that they make with it,” rancher Jean Minchau said in an interview with Global News.

.@PatStier_WR encourages to continue to pressure AB gov’t by writing letters, making their voices heard. #yql #bill6

— Sarolta Saskiw (@ssaskiw) December 16, 2015


How Does Bill 6 Compare with Farm Workplace Legislation in Other Provinces?

The Alberta government passed its new farm labour legislation last week. Bill 6 is supposed to make Workers’ Compensation Board insurance coverage mandatory for farm workers while bringing Occupational Health and Safety and labour standards to farms.

Amendments made to the bill clarified that it only applies to farms with at least one paid worker.

Since the regulations and technical codes supporting the bill have yet to be written, there’s been plenty of frustration and confusion caused by an absence of concrete information about how the legislation will affect farms. The government says it will consult with the industry in developing these employment and labour relations standards over the next 12 to 18 months.

In trying to understand the context of Bill 6 we examined the policies that are already in place in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. In most cases, these provinces adopted their farm workplace policies in stages over several decades, rather than a simultaneous change to WCB, OHS and labour relations rules. It’s also difficult to assess how strictly each province enforces its policies.

This is meant for information purposes only. Sources are listed below.

Comparing Bill 6 to other provinces 3

Sources/Further Reading:


Bill 6 rallies continue: Hundreds expected at Sylvan Lake rally and Legislature

By , Edmonton Sun

First posted: | Updated:

Sylvan Lake raly
People in Sylvan Lake, AB hold up protest signs as they prepare for the Stand Up For AB: Be Seen, Be Heard rally in the central Alberta town next weekend. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The Alberta Legislature may be on break over the holidays but that won’t stop angry Albertans from voicing their displeasure with the government.

Alberta has seen it’s fair share of protests over the past few weeks, as tensions rose over the controversial Bill 6, a farm safety legislation bill which prompted farmers and ranchers to gather in rallies across the province.

Now, a group in Sylvan Lake are prepared to do the same next weekend in a rally dubbed Stand Up For AB: Be Seen, Be Heard.

“Our community in Sylvan Lake is about farming and oil. We bleed oil here and it’s just not getting any better,” said rally organizer, said Sheri Hutlet. “Everyone is scared for their futures and none of us know what to do other than this kind of thing, because there’s nothing we really can do other than this.”

Hutlet, along with fellow Sylvan Lake residents Lisa Nielsen and Steven Ruttan, decided to organize the rally just six days ago and interest has already grown to include hundreds of people confirming their attendance.

“It’s just insane how much this thing has blown up,” said Hutlet. “There are a lot of upset people in this province and it’s time they’re heard.”

The rally is scheduled to be held on Dec. 18. along Highway 11 and range road 212. Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Don MacIntyre is scheduled to attend to say a few words.

On Saturday, the Wildrose Shadow minister for Electricity & Renewables attended a Bill 6 town meeting at the Calnash Ag Centre in Ponoka, AB. Similar town meetings were held last week, and over the weekend, in Hanna, AB and Olds, AB.

Another rally against Bill 6 is scheduled to take place at the Alberta Legislature on Tuesday at 11 a.m. People attending Tuesday’s rally are encouraged to bring a donation to Edmonton’s Food Bank.

[email protected]



Bill 6 – Dec. 17 – Bill 6 passes: anger ‘all out of proportion’

Posted Dec. 10th, 2015 by Saskatoon newsroom

Bill 6 protestors on horseback in Leduc. | Mary MacArthur photo
Bill 6 protestors on horseback in Leduc. | Mary MacArthur photo

UPDATED: December 18, 2015 – 1200CST – Farmers drove their trucks down highways, parked their tractors outside meeting halls, carried signs on pitchforks, created Facebook pages and presented more than 22,000 signatures in the legislature, all in an effort to kill a controversial Alberta farm worker bill. (Full story is here, or scroll down)

Side view of #bill6 rally in Leduc

— Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 7, 2015

Horses and rider at #bill6 rally in Leduc — Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 7, 2015

Convoy of grain truck arrive at Leduc #bill6 meeting.

— Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 7, 2015

The Alberta government’s proposed changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Bill 6, continues to rile farmers. You can find all The Western Producer’s coverage of this controversial proposed legislation below.

Healthiest option to elevate blood pressure in Leduc… #bill6 — The Western Producer (@westernproducer) December 7, 2015

East bound and town from Fort Macleod to Lethbridge. #Bill6 convoy on its ways. #killbill6 #ableg #wrp #ndp

— Lori Creech Loree (@loricreech) December 3, 2015

One farm death is one death too many, said @oneilcarlier. OHS should investigate to prevent further accidents. — Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 1, 2015


— Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 1, 2015

The ministers and MLAs ready to talk at #Bill6 meeting. — Mary MacArthur (@marymacarthur) December 1, 2015


Bill 6 passes: anger ‘all out of proportion’
– Farmers drove their trucks down highways, parked their tractors outside meeting halls, carried signs on pitchforks, created Facebook pages and presented more than 22,000 signatures in the legislature, all in an effort to kill a controversial Alberta farm worker bill.

Alberta NDP gov’t passes Bill 6
– Alberta’s controversial farm safety legislation debate ended as the government majority passed Bill 6. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act passed third reading today 44-20.

Government must stop Bill 6 until consultation complete
– Alberta’s NDP government has bungled Bill 6. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has galvanized agriculture into unprecedented opposition, and with good reason.

Farm groups speak out on Alberta’s Bill 6, Alberta’s proposed farm labour changes
– Many agricultural and rural groups in Alberta have issued public responses to Bill 6, the Alberta government’s Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. Here is a summary of their views.

What the other provinces are doing about farm worker safety
– Alberta’s Bill 6 plans to eliminate the farm exemptions on the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers Compensation, Labour Relations and Employment Standards. Legislation in the other western provinces varies when it comes to coverage and exemptions for farmers and farm workers.

Lethbridge farmers challenge Bill 6 – About 750 farmers rallied in Lethbridge today and they didn’t get what they wanted. They wanted the Alberta government to “kill Bill 6”, according to the many placards stuck to vehicles and held aloft.

‘We will pass this bill this fall’: Notley – Alberta premier Rachel Notley is pushing ahead with Bill 6 despite protests across the province to delay or kill the farm safety bill.

Alberta exempts Hutterites from Bill 6 – RED DEER — In a complete reversal, the Alberta government has announced it will exempt Hutterite colonies and their 22,000 members from mandatory Workers Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety coverage.

Alta. vows to amend Bill 6; farmers not satisfied – RED DEER — A clarification of farm safety rules by the minister of agriculture did little to quell the unhappiness of 500 angry farmers at a consultation meeting.

Alta. farmers protest Bill 6 – EDMONTON — Protests against Alberta farm worker legislation keep building momentum.

Slow down Bill 6, say farmers – GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Almost 400 angry farmers sent a clear message to the Alberta government last week: they don’t want the new farm safety legislation and they believe it is being rushed through without consultation.

Alberta Hutterite colonies want exemption from farm worker compensation bill – GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Mandatory workers compensation premiums would cost Alberta Hutterite colonies more than $22 million a year, said the Hutterite business adviser with accounting firm MNP.

New farm worker safety rules to alter landscape in Alberta – GIBBONS, Alta. — Sweeping changes to work and safety rules for Alberta’s farms and ranches have generated concern among those in farming.

First farmer speaker. We don’t like you. We don’t like your Bill. We don’t trust you he says. #westcdnag

— Barb Glen (@BarbGlen) December 3, 2015


Notley NDP limits Bill 6 debate as Alberta legislature gets rough and rowdy

By Rick Bell, Calgary Sun

First posted: Tuesday, December 08, 2015 09:05 PM MST | Updated: Wednesday, December 09, 2015 08:01 AM MST

Bill 6 demonstration

People hold signs protesting Bill 6 in a meeting with provincial Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier in Okotoks December 2, 2015. Alberta’s government will retool a bill that would overhaul workplace standards on farms in Canada’s biggest cattle-producing province, its agriculture minister said, after protests by farmers and ranchers. (REUTERS/Mike Sturk

It is a day where the events type out the story on the keyboard all by themselves.

It is a day where the Notley NDP government clearly has had enough of the bare-knuckles brawling, the political temperature ever rising as the aggravation intensifies.

They want to get what they need done, they want it done pronto and then they want to high-tail it out of Dodge for a Yuletide reprieve.

So it goes. On Tuesday they serve notice. Debate on Bill 6, the NDP’s farm bill, will end sooner rather than later, likely by Thursday.

The opposition is steamed but the NDP don’t care. They hold the hammer and the atmosphere is already ugly.

“We’re not ramming it through and declaring victory,” says Brian Mason, the NDP’s legislature quarterback.

“The rights of working people have to be protected.”

Greg Clark, leader of the Alberta party, offers words of caution.

“It creates headlines you don’t want,” says Clark, of the move.

They’ve already had plenty of headlines they don’t want. They’re used to it.

Yes, Tuesday is a day where Mason loses his temper and calls Wildrosers “goons” and “a bunch of gangsters” before apologizing and withdrawing the colourful lingo.

The veteran of many a political war proceeds to paint the Wildrosers as “a solid wall of noise” behaving in a way that’s “nothing more than an attempt to prevent ministers from answering properly.”

Mason adds it is “interfering with our ability to perform our jobs.”

Ric McIver, the PC’s interim leader, is no slouch when it comes to giving it back to the NDPers, talking about a “little bit of gamesmanship going on here.”

He actually refers to Danielle Larivee, the NDP municipal affairs minister.

McIver says she turned around in her legislature seat, taunting people sitting in the legislature gallery and supporting the opposition’s position.

“I would definitely say that qualifies as language designed to incite, likely to create disorder.

“Congratulations, minister. You wanted to create a ruckus and the minister created a ruckus.”

McIver goes further.

“The government can get their feelings hurt but I hope they didn’t expect to be here and not be held to account by the opposition,” he says.

“We have limited tools and one of the tools we have is to bang and make noise.

“If people are concerned about having their feelings hurt they might be sitting in the wrong room.”

Oh, it is quite the day.

It is the day where the Wildrose want the legislature to hold an emergency debate on “the bleak fiscal picture many Albertans are facing.”

Wildrose leader Brian Jean speaks of the human costs of the economic downturn, from drug use to suicides to bankruptcies and individuals losing jobs and “gripped with a sense of self-doubt and hopelessness.”

McIver supports having the debate and thinks it’s “made all the more urgent” by the NDP limiting discussion on Bill 6.

Once the legislature sitting is done politicians won’t get another chance to jaw over the issue until well into the new year.

The NDP believe it’s just a Wildrose stunt to keep the legislature sitting and the government as a punching bag. So it’s a no-go.

It is one heck of a day.

Wildroser Jason Nixon, representing the good people of Sundre and Bentley, is far from amused with the NDP closing down the amount of to-and-fro over Bill 6.

“Our constituents are asking us to stand up and speak,” says Nixon.

“I think the government is running scared. They’re doing this because they screwed up on Bill 6 so bad. And it’s their fault not the fault of the people of Alberta.”

He then mentions two women in a farm group from the Nanton area in southern Alberta.

Nixon saw them sitting in the legislature gallery, looking down at the action on the legislature floor.

“They were crying in the gallery. That’s how upset they were about what is going on. They’d driven here all the way from Nanton and they were crying.”

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Alberta’s Bill 6 amended to exempt family farms

Emily Chan,
Published Tuesday, December 8, 2015 12:09PM EST

Alberta’s NDP government has announced new amendments to its controversial proposed farm safety legislation, Bill 6.

Under the amended act, farms with one or more paid employees would have to provide workers’ compensation benefits and apply occupational health and safety rules.

However, family farms without paid workers will be exempt.


Alberta farm safety Bill 6 protest

Farmer and farm families gather at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (Dean Bennett/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“Unpaid farm and ranch workers, such as relatives, friends and neighbours helping out on the family farm, will not be affected,” the government website now says.

The government announced the changes on Monday afternoon, saying the amendments help clarify the original purpose of the bill.

“This was our intent all along,” said Lori Sigurdson, Alberta’s minister of jobs, skills, training and labour.

Sigurdson said there was a “miscommunication” when the NDP first proposed the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act on Nov. 17. At that time, it appeared that the bill would also apply to family members and volunteers.

“When the miscommunication came out it did take some time for us to get that clarity,” Sigurdson said.

According to the government, “Alberta offers less protection for farm and ranch employees than any other jurisdiction in Canada,” and Bill 6 is designed to bring the province in line with national safety standards.

If passed, the bill will go into effect on Jan. 1.

But critics are trying to stop that, saying the proposed legislation threatens to destroy traditional family farms and agricultural lifestyles.

In recent weeks, thousands of protesters organized and attended rallies against the legislation.

“They’re basically saying ‘Trust us, we are from the government, we’ll help you,” Farmer Erin Wall told CTV Edmonton at one protest. “But we don’t want their help.”

Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean has been outspoken against bill, speaking at rallies and calling on the government to kill the act.

And Alberta’s interim Progressive Conservative leader Ric McIvor has also been critical of the proposed law.

The former PC government, led by Alison Redford, also promised to bring in safety regulations. But McIvor says the NDP government failed to properly consult farmers about the proposed rules.

On Monday, he said the NDP’s recent amendments merely add “confusion” to the debate.

That same day, unions moved to back the bill, calling it a step in the right direction.

Speaking at a news conference to commemorate the 112 workers who have died on Alberta farms since 2009, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour gave Bill 6 his support.

“It is really about removing the exemptions in law that have denied Alberta’s 50,000 agricultural workers the same kind of rights and basic freedoms in the work place that other Albertans take for granted every day,” Gil McGowan, the association head, said.

With files from CTV Edmonton and the Canadian Press