LONDON (Reuters) - Alberta will hand out the first C$100 million of its cleantech fund next month, the province’s environment minister said, around the same time that one of the fund’s main contributors is expected to learn if it has been found guilty of killing 1,600 ducks.
Between 5 and 10 shortlisted clean energy projects will receive grants under Alberta’s technology fund, said Rob Renner. The fund is financed by a carbon tax put on the province’s oil sands developers like Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Renner is in Europe this week to promote Alberta’s environmental record, which critics say has been tarnished by the development of the province’s vast wealth of carbon dioxide-intensive oil sands and the subsequent spread of large toxic ponds and rise in deforestation and bird deaths.
Syncrude was charged with killing the ducks in 2008 after they landed on a toxic pond near one of the firm’s operations.
“The trial has concluded and ... we can expect a final verdict in the latter part of June,” Renner told Reuters.
Oil sands developers like Syncrude are taxed C$15 for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit over a set limit. The money is put into a technology fund, which has in the past three years accumulated nearly $200 million ($195.3 million).
Renner said the fund’s board has shortlisted around 30 projects for the first grants, from around 200 applicants, and the winners will be announced in the next 4-6 weeks.
The projects range from improving energy efficiency to developing renewable energy and burying carbon emissions underground. Renner said all approved will result in real CO2 cuts, adding that he’s also seeing more interest from private investors in clean energy.
The fund’s current balance implies excess emissions from industry of around 13.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than are expected to be cut by these projects, Renner said.
Alberta’s carbon tax only applies to installations that emit over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, but Renner said this threshold could be cut to 50,000 tonnes.
“The federal government is bringing forward climate change legislation and they have mandated reporting of CO2 emissions from all sources over 50,000 tonnes ... We will have access to that information and we will determine whether we should apply our legislation to those at 50,000.”
Renner said investment in Alberta’s clean technology industry, though still facing challenges, was prospering.
“I’m seeing some large projects proceeding so obviously there’s access to capital for them,” he said.
“Increasingly, I think the investment community is looking at ... projects that not only produce positive cash flow but protect the environment.”
Renner said investment in Alberta’s oil sands also continued, but at a slower pace than a few years ago.
“I don’t think that we’re back to the point where we were prior to the economic meltdown, when we had literally dozens of projects in the queue ready to move forward,” he said.
“Everyone is proceeding more cautiously now as there is still some difficulty in accessing investment of all kinds.”
When asked about the impact of falling oil prices, Renner said they were not inconsequential and could not rule out their causing more oil sand project delays.
U.S. crude oil prices fell below $70 a barrel to their lowest level in 2010 on Monday.
Renner said he expects the province’s other environmental fund, which is financed by taxpayers, to direct C$2 billion to develop technology to bury underground some 4-5 million tonnes of CO2 from the oil sands industry.
This amounts to around C$500 per tonne of CO2, but Renner said some Alberta industry expect this to fall by as much as 90 percent to $50 a tonne.
“There is an impression that Alberta’s resources are being developed in a totally unregulated environment, like the wild, wild west with every man for himself,” Renner said.
“I’m confident in saying that’s anything but the truth.”
Editing by Marguerita Choy