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Federal funding 'will help' Alberta communities that lost jobs in shift away from coal

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Coal is on its way out as an energy source — and as a source of jobs — in Alberta, and funding to help the places affected by shift to other industries is on its way.

Ottawa on Wednesday pledged more than $39 million through two federal initiatives to help Alberta communities shift from using coal as an economic driver to other industries.

The $39.4 million in funding through PrairiesCan, a federal department that promotes economic development in the region, will be used for 10 projects in areas across Alberta affected by the transition away from coal mining.

Dan Vandal, the minister for PrairiesCan, announced the funding will be used in several central Alberta locales, including:

  • Parkland County, which will receive the bulk of the funding ($17.5 million) to upgrade the Wabamun wastewater facility, develop a water feature and redevelop the Town of Wabamun's public waterfront;
  • Castor ($891,000)  to help the town convert a campground for multipurpose, year-round use;
  • Coronation ($891,000), which will renovate two buildings to convert them into business incubator and accelerator centres;
  • Paul First Nation ($850,000) to build an entrepreneur training and business support centre;
  • and Forestburg ($313,000) to develop land and utilities for a proposed historic park and for Flagstaff County to develop a proposed joint industrial park.

In a media release, the department says the projects getting funding will support more than 680 jobs. Vandal said at the formal announcement Wednesday in Wabamun — a hamlet 65 kilometres west of Edmonton that shares the name of the lake it sits beside and close to several power plants — the timeline to deliver the funding to the communities "is ASAP."

Parkland County Mayor Allan Gamble, who said the county lost 800 jobs when it moved away from coal-fired power plants, said the funding announcement "move us in a different direction that provide opportunity for the future."

"We're looking at ways that we can certainly provide those lost jobs and add a lot more in the future for this area," Gamble told media on Wednesday, adding the county is looking to replace the positions "at a very high rate" given other energy-generation opportunities.

"We have converted three of (the coal-fired power plants) to natural gas, but we have endless opportunities at looking at alternative sources of energy, like solar as well as nuclear technology, so there are opportunities that exist for energy security within Parkland County."

Dwight Dibben, Forestburg's chief administrative officer, said the federal funding "will help in terms of putting in place the needed infrastructure to hopefully capture some additional economic opportunity" as the village of 928 people continues to recover from losing more than 500 jobs at the nearby Battle River Generating Station, which converted in 2021 to natural gas from coal to produce power, and the coal mine that supplied it, the now-closed Paintearth Mine.

"We're in a state where we're looking at trying to put in place the needed attraction to bring in new industry, new economy," Dibben told media.

"The announcement that was made today to help put in place the building blocks for that is very welcome."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Marek Tkach