Alberta is Canada’s leader in renewables projects and investments. Of the new solar and wind generation capacity added in Canada in 2022, 75 percent was in this province.
This, it seems, is too much too fast for the provincial government. The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) has paused approvals of new renewable electricity generation projects over one megawatt until Feb. 29, 2024.
The harm this will do is substantial and includes the following:
- It will put the put 91 projects and $25 billion of investments and associated jobs at risk.
- It will put tax revenues for the province and for municipalities at risk.
- It will create uncertainty for investors.
- It will add unnecessary red tape to projects.
- It will add to the electricity prices paid by Albertans. (Renewables are now the cheapest supply.)
- It will add to the growing costs of climate change.
The government claims the pause is in response to “concerns raised from municipalities and landowners related to responsible land use and the rapid pace of renewables development.” The AUC will conduct an inquiry that will include “reviewing the use of agricultural land and public land for wind and solar projects, land reclamation and the role of municipal governments in land selection for project development and review.”
This sounds reasonable in itself—ensuring responsible land use, including land reclamation, and involving the municipalities in decision-making—particularly when one considers the province’s experience with the oil industry. The oil industry has left myriad toxic sites pockmarking the province, millions of dollars in property taxes unpaid and thousands of orphan well sites unreclaimed—a shameful precedent we wouldn’t want repeated.
Despite the oil industry’s behaviour, we have experienced no industry-wide shutdowns while regulations were considered. And oil and gas wells are a much greater concern than solar farms or windmills. Aside from contaminated sites, they can leak salt water, oil or gas into groundwater reservoirs. Solar and wind projects do neither. And of course oil and gas wells, like the reservoirs they drain, have limited life spans, and thus must eventually be decommissioned and sealed and the land reclaimed. The wind and sun, on the other hand, will provide energy forever.
And let’s not forget the tar sands, which will leave a massive cleanup for which the industry has not provided funds. Former premier Peter Lougheed once suggested the sands shouldn’t be developed faster than one project at a time, but his advice was ignored and it remains full speed ahead. No six month pauses here.
One might have expected that the government learned from their failure with the oil industry and would be prepared for the renewables expansion. Apparently not.
The pause is also rather surprising from a government that has consistently and righteously accused Ottawa of impeding Alberta’s energy production. As University of Alberta economics and law professor Andrew Leach pointed out, ”This is a government that has in the past taken issue with regulatory delays and how that’s a real barrier to investment. And now we’re seeing essentially that same situation being presented here.”
Alberta is even out of sync with their Conservative brothers and sisters in other provinces. Governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are all calling for new renewable investments to lower electricity costs for consumers.
Even Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, while agreeing that more regulation is needed, has not asked for a moratorium on approvals.
Is it possible that the pause is really nothing more than a former oil lobbyist exploiting her new-found powers to put the brakes on a natural gas competitor? Or is the premier attempting to fulfil her claim that the feds goal of a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 is impossible? One hates to think such thoughts, but the lady has not come up with a credible justification, so we are entitled to think the worst.
In any case, at the very least there is the smell of hypocrisy in the air (along with the smoke). University of Calgary economics and public policy associate professor Blake Shaffer referred to the move as “a mix of hypocrisy and ideology that the finger was pointed solely at renewables” at a time when Premier Smith entertains schemes to help fund oil companies in cleaning up their well sites.
We have experienced floods, wildfires and droughts in this province, all aided and abetted by global warming. The last thing we need is a delay in greening our electricity grid. We should be moving into a renewable future in all haste, not putting it on pause.