EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she would use her province’s sovereignty act as a last resort to challenge any attempt by the federal government to impose a net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

Smith says achieving net zero 12 years from now is not realistic, adding that it could lead to power blackouts because Alberta wouldn’t have a reliable source of baseload power, such as natural gas.

Smith’s government is arguing for a net-zero grid by 2050 and has a working group discussing the issue with federal counterparts.

“We’re preparing a sovereignty act motion and I’m hoping we don’t have to use it,” Smith told reporters in Calgary on Thursday.

“That’s why we're at the table having these negotiations.

“But we are going to defend our constitutional jurisdiction to make sure that we develop our oil and gas industry at our own pace and that we develop our electricity system so that it achieves the goal of reliability and affordability.”

The act is formally titled the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. It was passed by Smith’s government last fall as her signature legislation when she took over as premier.

The act's aim is to give the province the power to reject federal rules and programs it deems to be unconstitutionally interfering in areas of province responsibility, such as energy development.

The act's legal validity has not been tested in court.

Alberta's premier says achieving net zero 12 years from now is not realistic, adding that it could lead to power blackouts because Alberta wouldn’t have a reliable source of baseload power, such as natural gas.

Smith said her government has also launched a national ad campaign to warn of the dangers of a 2035 deadline.

“We are running print, radio, television and social media ads along with billboards and bus wraps,” said Smith.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault challenged Smith’s comments and called on the Alberta Electric System Operator, which runs the province's power grid, to show the numbers and assumptions to back its separate announcement Thursday that the 2035 net-zero timeline is unrealistic.

“Any claim that building a clean electricity grid in Alberta will lead to blackouts is misinformation, designed to inflame not inform,” said Guilbeault in a statement.

“We believe our goals are aligned and we are keen to engage constructively with the AESO and the Government of Alberta to make sure we get these details right. That’s one reason why we created the Alberta-Canada working group.”

Guilbeault said Canada does not want to be left behind as the United States and other G7 countries move toward clean electricity.

“This is a huge economic opportunity that we do not want to miss. That’s why industry and labour groups support it,” said Guilbeault.

“The draft regulations are designed with at least 12 years before they come into effect, giving time to attract investment and adjust decision-making. Because of the flexibilities we’ve built in, there is no cliff for natural gas plants as a result.”

Guilbeault released draft regulations in early August for a net-zero energy grid by 2035 energy.

His department estimates the average household energy bill will increase by $35 to $61 per year by 2040 if the regulations are adopted, but only two per cent of that increase would come as a result of the regulations. Alberta contends the cost to consumers would be much higher.

The federal government plans to cover up to half of the cost of the regulations through tax credits, low-cost financing and other funds.

Guilbeault has also said he expects increases to be offset as people move away from fossil fuels for driving and home heating.

The federal government continues to consult on the draft regulations and a final version is expected to be published in January 2025.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa

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