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Solar project seeks to replace abandoned oil wells in rural Alberta

Click to play video 'Solar project seeks to replace abandoned rural oil wells' Solar project seeks to replace abandoned rural oil wells
The RenuWell Project hopes to replace abandoned oil wells on farm properties with solar projects to help subsidize energy costs and support land reclamation in southern Alberta. Emily Olsen reports.

After years of concerns over abandoned oil infrastructure in rural Alberta communities like Taber, there’s a possible new solution on the horizon.

The RenuWell project is preparing to turn inactive wells into solar energy projects it says will generate 2,900 MWh and over $224,000 in electricity sales per year directly to the surrounding area.

Read more: ‘Ticking time bomb:’ Alberta group wants aging oil wells to be election issue

“Effectively, we’re just using the power connection that’s in the prepared surface that the oilfield development has provided,” originator of the RenuWell Project, Keith Hirsche, explained.

“We’re also putting in native grasses and things like that for ground cover. So we’ll be rebuilding the soil once the project is in place.”

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The project has support from multiple partners and stakeholders including Irrican and some of Canada’s most established solar companies, which will be coordinating installs.

In most cases, Alberta Environment and Alberta Energy Regulator will require sites to pass off reclamation certificates prior to installation.

“There’s a lot of sites out there that might cost $2- to $3 million to reclaim,” Alberta Surface Rights Group Director Daryl Bennett said.

“Instead of spending that money to reclaim the land, why don’t you spend it on the solar project and give yourself another 40 or 50 years to reclaim the soils?”

“There’s roughly 3,000 abandoned oil sites that landowners are concerned about because oil companies walked away,” M.D. of Taber Reeve Merill Harris said. “The weeds are an issue, they’re not getting paid their lease rentals.”

Read more: Trudeau announces $1.7B to clean up orphan wells in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan

The RenuWell project lists a number of economic outcomes, including: 

  1. New economic opportunities for landowners stranded with orphaned wells on their farms.
  2. Energy cost savings for the farmers who can purchase the solar electricity to power their irrigation systems. 
  3. Conserved farmland by utilizing brownfield sites for solar energy projects.
  4. Cost savings for consumers by repurposing existing infrastructure such as roads and power lines that were put in place for the original oil well production.
  5. Reduced reclamation costs for oil and gas companies who don’t have to remove the roads and power lines to the sites.
  6. Generated revenue for Irrigation Districts to continue irrigation system maintenance and upgrades.
  7. Ongoing property tax revenue for the Municipal District of Taber. 

Read more: Oil site cleanup program sees 18,000 applications in 4 days, ‘significantly’ over expectations

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“I haven’t seen anybody that understands the project that is opposed to the project,” Bennet said.

“Even the oil companies are looking at possibly putting some of these solar projects on some of their remote sites where it’s very costly to bring electricity in.”

Shovels are expected to hit the ground as early as next spring.