For months the Alberta Government has been heralding a deal for school boards to buy clean wind energy from BluEarth Renewables. But if it’s such a great deal for taxpayers, why are the details of it being kept secret?
George Clark, founder of Albertans First and the newly formed Alberta Ratepayers Association, has been posting blogs speculating on the details of this arrangement since last October.
Not everything he contends is accurate, but what we do know is that the Commodities Purchasing Consortium, a group established by 26 rural school boards, made a deal with BluEarth Renewables in 2012. The company began supplying power from its 29 MW Bull Creek Wind Farm starting in January 2016, and it will continue to provide green power to 500 schools under a 25-year power purchase arrangement.
But that’s where things begin to get a little murky. I hoped BluEarth President and CEO Grant Arnold could fill in some of the blanks.
I asked him where school boards are going to get their power the rest of the time, because wind is only about 30 per cent reliable. Arnold said the consortium has a secondary agreement with another company to provide power when wind is not available but that his wind farm had greater reliability than 30 per cent. When I asked how much greater he couldn’t say because of competitive issues.
I asked him what price the school boards locked in for because power is currently trading for just 1.7 cents a kilowatt hour. He couldn’t say because of competitive issues.
I asked him if the price had an escalator factor. He couldn’t say because of competitive issues.
When I asked him when the competitive issues would no longer be a factor and when we could know the terms, he basically said never. Really?
The lack of transparency is only part of the issue.
It is reasonable to ask whether these kind of arrangements make sense at all. For one thing, Arnold said that wind power is improving every 5 to 10 years, so then why lock in for 25 years? Why not wait until the technology improves and get a lower price?
Also, Albertans just witnessed other power purchase arrangements fall apart after 16 years because they became unprofitable with a drop in spot power prices. How do we know the school boards wouldn’t be better off locking in for 5 or 10 years at a time?
But even more curiously, the provincial government is going to court over what they describe as a “secret clause” negotiated into PPAs in a backroom deal with Enron in 2001. If the provincial government is so concerned about secrecy, how can they now condone publicly funded school boards keeping this information from the public?
Listen to my interview with George Clark and Grant Arnold and let me know what you think. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org