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Fraught provincial-federal relationship onstage at Alberta Climate Summit

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Premier Danielle Smith took her federal fight to the 2023 Alberta Climate Summit on Thursday.

The conference is touted as a way to examine responsible energy transitions, but the focus of its first day was a fraught provincial-federal relationship.

Smith and the federal energy minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, both took part in separate "fireside chats" during the afternoon session.

Much of the conversation revolved around how -- and how soon -- Alberta can achieve a net-zero electricity grid.

Ottawa is aiming for 2035.

"I think 2050 is realistic," Smith said during her sit-down.

"You have to be in sync with what is practical. Politicians want to accelerate decision-making so that they can stand at podiums and have election wins, whether or not it's practical or realistic."

Wilkinson has repeatedly said he believes the province can get its electricity grid to net zero by the target date, despite the premier's insistence to the contrary.

After his chat, the minister told reporters he's had several successful conversations with Maritime provinces facing similar economic challenges.

"You can either take the position that's never going to work and we're not going to engage, or you can say, 'OK, we want to engage the conversation," Wilkinson said.

"We agree on the objective, let's figure out the flexibilities that will work in this context."

Smith disagreed, at one point even calling the target "impossible."

In front of a crowd of clean energy and environment experts, that message didn't resonate -- the premier faced heckling.

"I am not going to rely on fantasy thinking," Smith said to one guest in the second row.

"My job is to have a reliable energy grid."

Smith was also challenged on her government's decision to halt the construction of wind and solar energy projects in the province.

The government is still running taxpayer-funded advertisements in other provinces -- notably Ontario -- suggesting 2035 goals could lead to sky-high prices and even power shortages.

Wilkinson says there's flexibility that can be worked out face-to-face.

The federal government released a draft of its clean electricity regulations in August, in which it says "deploying clean and non-emitting electricity would make energy consumption even more affordable for Canadians over the longer-term."

Meetings are ongoing between the two sides.

With files by Kevin Green

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