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Alberta premier offers up contradictory versions for imposed wind and solar pause


Alberta Premier Danielle Smith offered up conflicting explanations Monday for why her government put a temporary ban on large wind and solar energy projects.

Smith said the seven-month pause on renewables started because the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Electric System Operator, or AESO, wrote to government on July 21 asking for it.

However, neither letter asks for a moratorium.

"The Alberta Electric System Operator asked for us to do a pause to make sure that we could address issues of stability of the grid," Smith told reporters in Calgary, directing them to the letters posted online by her government.

"The Alberta Utilities Commission asked us to do a pause while we figured out how we could deal with end-of-life reclamation.

"I would just encourage you to dig up that original (Aug. 3) press release that we put out and look at what the two regulators have asked us to do."

The Utilities Commission letter asks for policy or legislative action to address a high volume of renewable and thermal power plant applications, along with their development on high value agricultural land, and rules on how they are to be reclaimed once the work is done.

The AESO letter simply thanks the government for informing it that the government plans to impose a moratorium.

The issue was further confused Monday when Smith, pressed by reporters on the contradiction between her statements and the letters, repeated that the Utilities Commission had indeed asked for the pause.

The Utilities Commission, asked by The Canadian Press if it had requested formally or informally for a pause, responded in a statement that referred to the July 21 letter and an Aug. 3 announcement setting up parameters of its government-directed review of the renewables industry. Neither document asked for a moratorium.

Adding to the complexity is the fact both letters are dated July 21, two weeks before the pause was announced.

Smith's government has cited the July 21 Utilities Commission letter as a springboard to take action, yet the AESO letter indicates that by July 21, the government had already decided to impose the moratorium.

Smith's office did not respond to a request for clarification.

Her United Conservative Party government has faced criticism for announcing the moratorium with no advance notice and without consulting stakeholders, jeopardizing billions of dollars in potential investment in renewables.

Energy and environmental economist Andrew Leach at the University of Alberta says the premier has her timelines backwards. 

"They sit for two whole weeks having made this decision, and they said, 'Well, we couldn't consult with anybody when we responded to this AUC thing," etc… The timing just doesn't make sense," said Leach. 

Smith says it should have been obvious drastic action was coming, given that she spoke publicly in the spring about whether renewable energy was sufficiently backstopped by natural gas, and expressed concern over projects taking up too much farmland.

Smith also doubled down on her distaste for Ottawa's Powering Canada Forward plan, which sees a complete shift to clean electrical energy by 2035, a timeline that is too costly and unconstitutional for the premier. 

"We will never allow these regulations to be implemented here, full stop," said Smith. 

"We’re going to fight it. We're hoping to come to the table. We're hoping to be able to get them(Ottawa) to a point where they agree that aligning with 2050 is the sustainable policy."

Smith believes the transition will happen, but not in the timeframe the feds set out. 

"This doesn't mean that we're closing the door on cooperation with the federal government." 

Leach says the premier may have a case if she challenges the constitutionality of it. 

"Doing something in 12 years, is going to be much harder than doing it in 27 years, but can you comply with these regulations by 2035? I think the answer is yes," he said.

Smith dismissed suggestions that the temporary ban would put a chill on future investment, stating the review has a firm end date of Feb. 29.

"Six months from now, we'll be able to have a framework, and everybody will be able to proceed with their investment, knowing that those are the considerations that we have in mind," she said.

The moratorium applies to wind and solar power projects greater than one megawatt. The Utilities Commission is to hold an inquiry into issues of development on agricultural land, effect on scenery, reclamation security, the role of municipalities and system reliability.

With few regulatory barriers to entry and abundant wind and sunshine, Alberta has been a leader in renewable energy development in Canada. Last year, 17 per cent of its power came from wind and solar – exceeding the province's 15 per cent goal.

There are another 15 renewable energy projects before the Utilities Commission and more than 90 in various stages of development. Since 2019, corporate renewable energy deals in Alberta have supported nearly $4.7 billion in new capital investment and provided 5,300 jobs.

Opposition NDP energy critic Nagwan Al-Guneid said Smith is failing Alberta at a critical time during the energy transition.

"We are leading in renewable energy development in Canada, but that has been put in jeopardy by the six-month ban imposed by Danielle Smith and the UCP on new projects," said Al-Guneid in a statement.

"This decision could put more than 91 projects and $25 billion in investment at risk."

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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