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It was only fitting that Calgary was nearing yet another heat record as I walked into the North Haven Community Centre to attend a town hall planning session hosted by the Alberta Environmental Network (AEN).
AEN is known for co-leading the Defend Alberta Parks campaign, which resulted in the government of former premier Jason Kenney backing down on its plans to close or privatize 175 provincial parks.
On this unusually hot and smoky evening, Calgarians were meeting to discuss a response to Premier Danielle Smith’s moratorium on renewable energy projects. The mood ranged from angry disbelief to foreboding that this was only the beginning of Smith’s attacks on the booming renewables industry. People were showing up to vent their frustration, but also because they wanted to do something about it.
Before this spring’s provincial election, AEN began developing the Alberta Talks deep canvassing initiative. Molli Bennet, director of Alberta Talks, created a program that trained volunteers to door-knock and discuss fossil fuel subsidies. The program required listening closely to anyone willing to share their views while seeking their opinion on the fairness of subsidies for an industry with record profits.
In past years, AEN’s executive director Natalie Odd managed successful campaigns such as Defend Alberta Parks and Alberta Beyond Coal, but the deep-listening component of Alberta Talks seemed to be a particularly powerful method of connecting with people and bridging opposing views.
AEN decided to focus this initial town hall on listening to everyone’s concerns and their ideas for challenging the renewable energy project moratorium. But would people come? And would they continue to participate in followup meetings to develop a co-ordinated response to the renewables-blocking regulations?
The answer would turn out to be a resounding, “Yes."
People came in numbers and by the end of the night, we all sensed the emergence of a community willing to step out of their comfort zones and take action. More meetings will follow, but the kickoff felt like a successful AEN campaign in the making.
Some wondered whether a recent town hall to plan the next moves to fight Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's renewables freeze would be a success. The answer was a resounding yes, writes Rob Miller @winexus #renewables #StopFossilFuels #abpoli #ableg
This AEN / Alberta Talks event was uniting climate action groups that typically don’t work closely together and it was also drawing in others who felt it was time to get involved. The chatter and excitement grew as we rolled out tables and chairs and it began to feel like something very special was happening.
When the long line of people were finally name-tagged and seated, the proceedings began. There were six to eight people around each table and we started by talking about how the moratorium announcement affected us personally.
The people I was sitting with expressed a mixture of surprise, outrage and disgust at such a shortsighted and damaging decision, but each individual was directly affected in very different ways.
A project manager for Peace Energy Cooperative was one week away from Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approval when the rug was pulled out from under its project — Western Canada’s first co-operatively financed, owned and operated solar farm. He was “heartbroken” by the unexpected announcement.
Another person worked for FortisAlberta and talked about a large number of their projects put on hold by the moratorium. Fortis is involved in both micro-generation and distributed-generation projects that exceed the 1MW limit imposed by the moratorium. The most upsetting thing to her was that a big player like Fortis wasn’t consulted or informed before the announcement.
A rousing discussion erupted at all tables, with exuberant voices steadily rising to be heard above the clamour. Many felt the provincial government was moving backwards by attempting to halt growth in renewable energy and there was widespread concern that the next step in Smith’s playbook would be to introduce new approval requirements to deliberately delay projects and increase costs.
There was a strong feeling in the room that the booming renewables sector was not being treated fairly. Such heavy-handed regulations would never be tolerated for oil and gas projects, where development proceeds unabated amidst undeclared tailings pond leaks and a billion-dollar orphaned well liability. The inequity of a moratorium on renewables was seen as a clear attempt to impede the green energy transition.
At one table, a chemical engineer and a geophysicist explained how Albertans have to learn to accept that the future of the carbon economy is no longer assured. When global markets shifted in the past, the downturns were always abrupt and unexpected. The next “oil bust” will be far worse because alternative energy is being developed around the world at an exponential pace.
A high school science teacher wanted to talk to her students about the moratorium on renewables but was afraid of repercussions from parents in the oil and gas industry. By the end of the evening, she thought it might be possible to give them a letter-writing assignment to express their feelings on the issue.
Another person with the For Our Kids organization was distraught because it seemed like past efforts to promote climate action in Alberta were being dealt a major setback by an irresponsible administration. However, the town hall helped her realize For Our Kids was part of a much bigger movement and this renewed her commitment to fight on.
The AEN town hall was clearly a coming together of many different organizations and individuals with a common goal of fighting to protect clean energy from the misguided hands of our provincial government.
As with AEN’s Alberta Talks program, there was a focus on expressing feelings and listening deeply to what others had to say. As a result, the night was filled with energy and optimism.
After things wrapped up, I walked back to my car and someone commented in the darkness, “It’s strange how some days the smoke is so thick, but you don’t smell it. Tonight, the sky looks pretty clear, but you can really smell the smoke.” This is a conversation that never would’ve happened 10 years ago. Were wildfires and the ensuing air pollution becoming normal?
On my drive home, I worried the younger generation might learn to accept the heat waves, storms and air pollution that are now a constant reminder of the folly of governments refusing to prepare for a future where fossil fuels are no longer the primary energy source. But if the town hall was any indication, there are still a lot of people, young and old, prepared to fight for something better.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.