Highlights from the ministers’ meeting in Falher

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional
Economic Development

 

A couple of weeks ago Smoky River Regional Economic Development (SRRED) partnered with the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance to host the minister of Environment, Shannon Phillips and the Minister of Energy and local MLA, Marg McQuaig-Boyd in Falher.
About 60 people from the region attended the meeting to hear more about the Alberta government’s environmental plans. PREDA spoke about work it is doing on solar energy.
That is a big turn around for PREDA and the region which has long focused on oil. We live in an oil rich region and we have relied on oil investment and development to sustain our communities for numerous years.
Our region is also fortunate to have some of the best agricultural land and commodities as well as substantial timber products all around us. Unfortunately, both agriculture and forestry have often played second fiddle to oil.
One thing all three commodities have in common is the need for us to transport our products outside of the region. We have a reasonable highway network, but truck transport is expensive.
Our rail is limited and pipelines seem to have fallen in disfavor. And we need to face the fact that the present Alberta government has a strong environmental slant that doesn’t necessarily favor the use of oil products or even its transportation.
So what are we to do? Well, whether we agree with a government’s direction or not, in order for us to benefit we need to embrace any positives we see being offered by the government.
In Northern Alberta we have a lot of sun and let’s face it there is nothing wrong with tapping into that resource and benefitting from it. PREDA, working with Lac Cardinal Regional Economic Development and the municipalities surrounding the Peace River Airport want to look at the feasibility of developing a solar farm at the peace River Regional Airport.
Why the airport? Well, airports tend to be surrounded by a lot of flat treeless land, with great sun exposure. Worries that glare from the panels could impact flights coming in have already been addressed at other airports that have already tapped into solar. And airports tend to lose money.
Airports require considerable maintenance, regardless of how often they are used. The Peace River airport is one of the few airports in the northwest that has scheduled flights. But all airports have a greater purpose than scheduled flights. Our municipal airports are also used for forest fire suppression and most importantly for medevac services.
The concept of a solar farm could potentially generate revenue for an airport, reducing their cost and making them more viable. Municipalities are facing higher costs on everything and the new carbon tax in effect in 2017 will add to that. It makes sense to look at what the government is offering to help offset those costs, and solar is just one of those opportunities.
But back to the meeting. The crowd was very interested and educated and this was reflected by their questions. Many were concerned about the new carbon tax and the impact on all aspects of life.
A local mayor expressed concern over the impact to our volunteer sector and suggested exempting essential needs from the tax. She was concerned with the cost of living going up, many volunteers in the north would have reduced disposable income.
We are reliant on vehicles in the north and additional costs for operating and maintaining a vehicle would prevent some from volunteering. And it is not just the volunteers, the reality is we don’t have public transit, we don’t have buses connecting our communities and we are forced to drive many kilometers for essential services. Bottom line is it costs us more.
The Minister responded that the government is still working out the details. Fair enough. But let’s hope the Minister and the government were taking notes to bring back to their colleagues. Rural Alberta has more challenges and higher costs of day-today living than our large urban counterparts.
Yes, we can and should embrace government directives that are good for us and good for the province, but hopefully the government will equally embrace the challenges we face in rural Alberta and create directives reflective of that.

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