Alberta, with excellent sun and wind resources, and the only deregulated electricity market in the country, is Canada’s renewable energy powerhouse. In 2023, 92 percent of the country’s growth in solar and wind energy and energy-storage capacity was built in this province.

Because the deregulated market allows private developers to build new projects and sell the electricity directly to corporate customers, a host of purchasers has been attracted from tech companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Meta to oil companies such as Cenovus Energy and TC Energy.

One wonders, therefore, why Alberta’s UCP government seems so unwelcoming to the industry. In August, 2023, it imposed a seven-month moratorium on submissions for renewables projects. It expressed concern about reclamation, the use of farmland and the harm to natural views.

Concern about the potential harm of energy projects is eminently reasonable but no one can remember such concern resulting in moratoriums on the oil industry, an industry vastly more polluting than wind or solar. Nor did the Alberta Energy Regulator appear to have any problem monitoring the location and regulation of renewable projects to ensure proper land use and environmental protection.

Once the moratorium ended, the government proposed regulations quite beyond anything imposed on other energy projects. These included bans on certain classes of agricultural lands and restrictions on development within a 35 km radius of protected areas and “pristine viewscapes” (these areas could cover up to 75 percent of southern Alberta, the sunniest and windiest part of the province).

Landowners whose property falls under these restrictions will lose the ability to invite a renewal energy project onto their land, depriving them of a source of revenue—a source they could exploit if an oil company wanted to drill on their land. And municipalities will be deprived of a significant source of tax revenue. And all Albertans lose out when the cheapest source of electricity is handicapped.

On top of all this is the discouraging effect on investors. The Canadian Renewable Energy Association is concerned about increasing uncertainty for Alberta’s renewable energy and energy storage industry, particularly about new projects in the province. They are understandably disappointed that the government has decided to put some parts of the province off-limits to renewables.

Dan Balaban, CEO of Greengate Power Corporation, has nicely expressed the concern among investors: ”They’re definitely not a flashing green light. At the very best, a yellow light, and possibly worse.”

The governments’s concerns used to justify the moratorium in the first place have been shown to be largely unwarranted by a report issued this week by the Alberta Utilities Commission. The report stated “Assuming all renewable development locates on [some of Alberta’s best] land, the percentage of [such] agricultural land loss is estimated to be less than one per cent by 2041.” This was consistent with a University of Calgary analysis that found installing enough solar panels for the province to achieve a net zero power grid by 2035 would use at most 0.08 percent of the province’s agricultural land.

As for reclamation concerns, the commission report says “Compared to some other forms of industrial development, renewable power plant projects have well-understood and relatively contained reclamation risks. The risks associated with groundwater and off-site contamination are generally low.” The report also concluded that current rules are adequate to ensure reclamation. One suspects those “other forms of industrial development” mentioned are a discreet reference to the oil industry.

It did mention the oil industry directly, saying, “From 2019 to 2021, the largest driver of agricultural land loss was expansion of pipelines and industrial sites.” Needless to say, we experienced no moratorium on pipelines.

Regarding “pristine viewscapes,” the report states,”It is very difficult to define pristine viewscape in a manner that satisfies all stakeholders, and that doing so may not be desirable because the value of a viewscape is subjective.” Indeed. The commission suggested handling such concerns on a case-by-case basis.

This approach was seconded by U of C law professor Martin Olszynski who suggested “We can be nuanced and thoughtful about it. If you impose blanket restrictions, as the government seems to want to do, then you can’t be nuanced and thoughtful.” He stated that the commission’s report was an “evidence-and reason-based wrecking ball that smashes the government’s talking points and policies with respect to renewables.” Most of the tools needed to regulate the industry, he added, already exist.

So why is the government rejecting the recommendations of its own report? Why is it picking on the renewables industry? Not to kneecap competitors of the oil industry, surely? I have said before that Danielle Smith is more the premier of the oil industry than premier of the province. Her throwing roadblocks in the way of renewables is not changing my opinion.

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