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The federal government’s new draft regulations for a clean power grid are being widely applauded by environmental groups but drew immediate fire from some provinces. Despite the blowback, Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault says he won’t back down.

Guilbeault said Ottawa wants to work collaboratively with all provinces and territories but not at the expense of climate action.

“Of course, we want to have a good and harmonious relationship as much as we can, but not at the cost of doing what we need to do … [and] what we committed to Canadians and our international peers [we would] do,” he told Canada’s National Observer.

The draft regulations announced Thursday are designed to clean Canada’s power grid by requiring electricity systems across the country to bring all planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2035 –– barring some exemptions.

Concerns that existing fossil fuel plants could be retired before they’ve been paid off and that renewable energy may not be as reliable as fossil fuels are driving a serious backlash from provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, which still burn natural gas to generate electricity.

Ottawa acknowledged it is expensive to decarbonize the grid. However, it noted provinces, territories and utilities will need to invest more than $400 billion in the coming decades to replace and expand their power generation even without the rules and said that’s why it's committing billions of dollars worth of tax credits and other measures to help provinces make the transition.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, whose province has over 500 active gas fields and generates roughly 90 per cent of its power from fossil fuels — approximately 54 per cent from natural gas and 36 per cent from coal — was quick to attack the regulations, calling them “unconstitutional” and “irresponsible.”

“Alberta’s government will protect Albertans from these unconstitutional federal net-zero regulations,” she said in a statement. “They will not be implemented in our province — period.”

Smith added the “only” positive of the draft regulations is that they are still a draft, meaning there’s time for her government to try to make Ottawa cave using a recently announced working group between Alberta and the feds set up to discuss climate and energy policies.

“Meeting this 2035 target for electricity is the only credible path for Canada meeting its climate targets overall," says @StephenJWT with the @DavidSuzukiFDN.

“If this alignment is not achieved, Alberta will chart its own path to ensuring we have additional reliable and affordable electricity brought onto our power grid that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also went on the offensive, saying the regulations would “drive electricity rates through the roof and leave Saskatchewan with an unreliable power supply.”

“Our government will not let the federal government do that to Saskatchewan people,” he said.

The Canadian Climate Institute estimates that for the average household in Canada, spending on energy will fall 12 per cent by 2050 as expensive fossil fuels are replaced with cheaper and more efficient renewable alternatives. Similarly, the federal government estimates nearly $29 billion in “net benefits” –– referring to things like job creation and savings on health care –– for Canadians by 2050 by transitioning off fossil fuels.

Guilbeault told Canada’s National Observer it’s “fair to say that we don’t see eye-to-eye” with premiers like Smith and Moe when it comes to fighting climate change.

“I also think it would be fair to say that pretty much everything we do seems unconstitutional in their view,” he said, pointing to provincial challenges to carbon pricing and impact assessment legislation and sabre-rattling from the provinces over the federal government’s proposed cap on oil and gas sector emissions.

“They challenged the [carbon] pricing all the way to the Supreme Court [and] we won, and guess what? They're all implementing carbon pricing now, whether they're using the federal system or they're using their own.

Guilbeault added it's important for the federal government to recognize there can be a difference between what premiers say and what the people in those provinces think should happen.

“I look at the backlash following the [renewable energy] moratorium announcement in Alberta [and] I think we're not the only ones who feel that government is going in the wrong direction,” he said.

As Smith promises a fight with Ottawa over clean electricity rules, a recent poll from Abacus Data found 64 per cent of Albertans support the federal government’s clean electricity regulations. That figure jumps to an overwhelming majority of 71 per cent of Canadians nationwide supporting the rules.

A crucial step

A clean power grid is widely seen by experts as a vital step to reaching the country’s international commitment under the Paris Agreement to hit net-zero emissions by 2050. That’s because the power grid is the backbone of the economy. A clean grid means people and businesses will pollute less when they use electricity, making it a crucial step for industry to lower its own emissions. Clean power also paves the way for Canada to cut down on emissions from other activities, like heating homes and driving vehicles, by electrifying buildings and transportation.

Under “modest” assumptions that demand for power will grow 1.4 times by 2050, the federal government estimates the rules would cut at least 342 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by then.

Environmental advocacy organizations widely applauded the draft regulations for taking a significant step forward by requiring new pollution performance standards for power generation that should tilt investment towards renewable energy. However, they noted loopholes in the text that could ultimately allow more fossil fuels to be added to provincial power grids and be in operation well past the 2035 target if they meet certain criteria.

That includes things like equipping natural gas power plants with carbon capture technology that hits the performance standard, allowing plants built before 2025 to operate up to 20 years past their commissioning date (meaning a plant built in 2024 could operate until 2044) before the regulations kick in, and other “flexibilities” like burning fossil fuels on a limited basis when demand can’t be met by renewables or in emergency circumstances.

In statements, the Pembina Institute said the draft regulations were a “landmark” that provides “regulatory and policy certainty for investors, companies and communities.” Environmental Defence said the rules would “deliver significant emissions reductions,” but noted that as currently drafted, they won’t be enough to actually hit the goal of zero emissions in 2035 given the loopholes.

Still, “this is the right target for Canada,” David Suzuki Foundation clean energy manager Stephen Thomas told Canada’s National Observer. “It's the same target that the [United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], the International Energy Agency and all of our G7 partners are trying to meet.

“Meeting this 2035 target for electricity is the only credible path for Canada meeting its climate targets overall.”

Thomas said the “influence of the fossil fuel lobby” can be seen in the details of this draft regulation, and pointed to concerns with grandfathering in natural gas power plants without carbon capture technology built before the regulation comes into force and allowing natural gas plants to be used for backup purposes.

“The bottom line here is that fossil fuels are not clean electricity,” Thomas said. The point “of this regulation is to get a clean electricity system by the year 2035, and we believe that fossil fuels have no place in that.”

The loopholes that allow fossil fuel plants to be grandfathered in or run during peak demand on their own are “not the end of the world,” Thomas said, but “taken together, they really add up on the grid.” He notes that in 2035, when the goal is to have zero emissions from power generation, Canada is still anticipating around nine million tonnes of CO2 emissions on the grid.

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Let the conservative west go off the deep end over this. It is pretty clear with our current federal government in power, at least they are trying to tackle climate change, which is not supported by conservatives at all levels. You see the same non-support even by the conservatives to the south.

It seems conservatives are more interested in pushing oil and gas than helping save the planet. But I wonder, by continuing to enrich themselves with the proceeds of fossil fuels, what are they going to do with the riches if the planet becomes detrimental to humans, plants and animals?

It is more important than ever to never elect any party that doesn't take climate change seriously. The Corruption Party of Canada (PC), the free-dumber's PPC would be a total disaster in Canada should they ever take office federally. Just like Doug the Thug in Ontario, these parties would quickly dismantle anything that would help save the planet. Danielle Smith appears to be on the same road to do the same in Alberta as he buddy Doug.

Danielle Smith truly does not grasp the difference between being an oil industry lobbyist and premier of Alberta. It's heartening to hear that 2/3 of albertans are on board with what needs to be done but the conservative politicians are turning it into a culture war because those are the instructions from the head office of the conservative movement...Charles Koch proprietor.

Being premier of Alberta and an oil industry lobbyist has been the same thing ever since Peter Lougheed left politics, with possibly one or two temporary exceptions.

Danielle Smith: "A 2035 target is completely unrealistic! It would be impossible to ramp up renewables that fast. But just to be sure, I've outlawed them."

Kudos to the feds for stepping up.

The arguments Smith and Moe are using to resist renewables are false and need to be countered. Reliability and availability are accomplished with large scale battery storage. Today there is a plethora of choice in batteries - both with and without lithium chemistry - that stores megawatts of energy from a few hours to up to four days. It's a non issue.

The only way to claim new power plants will add cost over time is if they built them to run on more expensive gas. Solar is the cheapest form of power ever invented, with wind coming in a close second.

Kudos to all the commenters.
As usual you add context, insight, and truth and are spot on.

It’s encouraging to read that a majority of Albertans polled voiced support for the federal government’s clean electricity regulations. But one has to wonder about the disconnect between that result and the way that they voted in the last provincial election a short while ago, and in the previous federal election(s) for that matter. Will the majority of Albertans vote for Pierre Poilievre and the CPC in the next federal election? Most likely and almost certainly!

While there are some encouraging tentative signs that there is a shift happening, albeit slowly, in Alberta with regard to how they vote, I’m afraid that I don’t see any reason to believe that there will be a major breakthrough for the more progressive parties any time soon, although I would certainly be pleasantly surprised if there was a major shift. I must confess that I wrote Albertans off as being owned (in more ways than one) by the O&G industry a long time ago and the actions of successive provincial governments have only reinforced that perception.

One has to wonder when the people of Alberta will start waking up to the very real possibility of their children and grandchildren (and ours) inheriting a frighteningly dystopian, apocalyptic future if the world continues to ignore the climate change juggernaut coming our way at an ever increasing rate. It’s not like Alberta doesn’t have plenty of options for changing how they function in this new reality. But let’s remember, this is a province that recently voted in a majority government led by an O&G lobbyist who spouts conspiracy theories almost daily across a multitude of topics and issues and shovels billions of taxpayer dollars to her favourite industry without shame!

Alberta should be the laughingstock of Canada for voting in Danielle Smith and her government; although Ontario is right up there with them for voting in Doug Ford and his Conservative government. Neither province should be surprised by the current actions and policies of their leaders given how they voted. The question now is will they also support PP and the CPC in the next federal election? Like the Repugnant Party in the US, the CPC will quickly move to dismantle any progress made on the climate change front and move to implement policies that continue to support the O&G industry and build more pipelines, etc. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how regressive PP and his CPC will be if they manage to seize another false majority government.

We can only hope that critical thinking makes a breakthrough before the next election.

Sorry, but I don't believe there is any evidence that critical thinking will make a breakthrough there anytime soon. The majority of my ~300 or so friends and relatives there seem to vote conservative out of blind tradition, not giving much thought to policy or the content of the character of candidates. In my view, the issue turned on the repeated elections of a buffoon named Ralph Klein.

I left 45 years ago and it's never been worse in the Alberta legislature. But I believe there will be a day of reckoning, and that will come from the market, something politicos there say they worship but in fact violate in practice almost every day with subsidies and moratoriums on perfectly legitimate business in renewables, thus terminating billions of dollars in private investments and thousands of local jobs.

The international fossil fuel market is under pressure on climate, and cracks in its facade are forming. If Alberta cannot see the great value in economic diversification, let alone climate adaptation, then it's in for a very harsh lesson, perhaps before this decade is through.

The voters enable their own consequences whether they know it or not.

These statistics are baloney: "Alberta ... generates roughly 90 per cent of its power from fossil fuels — approximately 54 per cent from natural gas and 36 per cent from coal.” Thanks to the NDP's once-in-a-liftime intervention, coal generation will be phased out next year. In 2023, alternative energy generation is accounting for upwards of 50% of current demand. I hate to say this, because the distribution system is a greedy monopoly, but the ability to sell electricity directly to customers (via the grid) independently of the distribution companies, is a really good alternative to obstructive government [in Alberta]. It has facilitated and empowered wind and solar project companies to invest and end-users to buy clean energy.