In 2015, Postmedia News took Alberta Premier Rachael Notley to task for spending $700,000 on a media campaign to promote the NDP’s climate action plan. Notley was quoted as saying, “Albertans want us to show strong leadership on climate change. It’s important to communicate what we are doing to protect our health, environment and economy for future generations.”
How the winds of change have blown in Alberta.
A sober plan to increase renewables to a 30 per cent level with the full support of the Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO) has been replaced by a moratorium on renewable energy projects and an $8-million marketing campaign that makes false claims about the reliability and costs of clean energy.
Canadians should be disappointed when conservative governments resort to extreme measures to prevent the buildout of renewable energy. There’s no greater evidence that these politicians’ hearts and souls have been captured by the fossil fuel industry.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford used rising electricity costs to whip up angry opposition to renewable energy. After winning the election in 2018, the Ford government quickly announced the cancellation of 758 contracts for renewable energy projects, which amounted to the loss of over 400 megawatts (MW) of planned clean electricity capacity.
The cancelled projects included hydroelectricity and biomass energy as well as numerous community solar installations for arenas, schools, athletic facilities, libraries, police stations and buildings in First Nations communities.
Terminating these contracts cost the Ontario government over $230 million. Meanwhile, Ford had the audacity to claim that these drastic measures would save Ontarians 12 per cent on their electricity bills when the cancelled generating capacity was less than three per cent of the province’s total generating capacity.
Between 2009 and 2018, Ontario’s feed-in tariff policy facilitated the construction of over 3,000 MW of grid-connected wind energy and 400 MW of solar. In the five years since Ford’s disastrous policy, there have been no grid-connected solar projects and only a couple Indigenous-led wind energy projects.
Alberta is following Ontario's playbook: Sharpening knives that will be plunged into the backs of renewable energy workers, landowners & diversified energy companies in the province, writes @winexus #renewables #electricity #aeso #ClimatePollution
The Ontario Energy Board’s electricity price historical data indicates that current electricity prices have returned to 2017 levels in spite of the untimely death of the feed-in tariff policy designed to reduce carbon pollution and build a renewable energy industry in the province.
In fact, after killing the Ontario Fair Hydro Plan Act, which limited Ontario’s electricity price increases to the rate of inflation, the Ford government introduced an electricity rebate in 2019 to fulfil its promise to reduce electricity rates. The rebate will increase in November from approximately 12 per cent to over 19 per cent without clean energy projects to blame.
In fact, fossil-based electricity might be the culprit for rising electricity prices in 2023. Last summer, it was revealed that due to a lack of electricity-generating capacity in Ontario, natural gas peaker plants had to be run 24 hours a day to maintain supply. These plants are intended to run for short periods of peak demand and as a result, they charge significantly more for the electricity they produce.
These are the consequences of environmentally and economically sound decision-making being trumped by political ideology. The consumer ultimately pays the price unless the government uses public funds to hide the fact its policy did not deliver on its promises.
By burning more fossil fuels for electricity, Ontario chose to continue polluting the atmosphere and destabilizing the climate. Ultimately, this policy will escalate public and private costs for extreme weather events, climate adaptation and disaster mitigation.
Undoubtedly, the Alberta government will follow the same playbook as the Ford administration. They’re already sharpening the knives that will be plunged into the backs of renewable energy workers, landowners and diversified energy companies across the province.
A six-month moratorium on renewable energy projects ensures they will be stalled or abandoned for next year’s construction season. More recently, Premier Danielle Smith announced the launch of her government’s advertising campaign that tells people clean energy will drive up costs by 400 per cent while leaving them “freezing in the dark.”
The Canada Competition Bureau and Advertising Standards Canada have no authority over political advertising and political parties are free to create misleading campaigns. Without regulation, it should come as no surprise when misinformation is rampant in political advertising.
Mike Law, the chief executive officer of the AESO, is toeing the line on the provincial government’s assertions that a clean electricity grid isn’t possible by 2035 and any attempt to clean up the grid by this date will lead to supply shortages.
When Notley was elected premier in 2015, coal-fired generating plants were still supplying 50 per cent of Alberta’s total electricity supply. The NDP created policy to eliminate coal generation by 2030 and included financial incentives to foster industry support for the transition. In 2023, coal-generating capacity will be eliminated seven years ahead of schedule.
Alberta has a large fleet of natural gas plants and retrofitting them all with carbon capture and storage (CCS) may not be feasible by 2035 because utility companies have no appetite for the kind of investment this will require.
Time-limited federal tax credits may help accelerate capital investments in CCS, but the Alberta government has opted for a strategy of delay by stating it needs over two and a half decades to clean up the electricity grid.
There are companies ready to build wind, solar and grid storage capacity to help achieve significant improvements in Alberta’s clean energy capacity by 2035. According to AESO, “12,600 MW of solar capacity, 9,100 MW of wind and 5,556 MW of energy storage are either under construction, have received approval by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) or been announced by project proponents.”
This renewable energy capacity is double what Alberta currently generates from natural gas plants. One way to ensure Alberta has future electricity supply problems and higher costs for consumers would be to kill all that planned renewable energy.
The aggressiveness of Alberta’s moratorium and advertising campaign suggests that the government is following a plan that involves softening up Albertans to the idea that renewable energy is bad. Policies to further obstruct investment opportunities in renewable energy will likely follow.
Through misinformation, damaging policy measures and exerting influence on AESO, the Alberta government will attempt to steer the once-booming renewable energy industry towards the same fate orchestrated by Ford’s Conservative government.
This will come at a great economic cost to Alberta. The moratorium has already stalled 118 projects, representing $33 billion in investments.
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, but any opinions expressed in his work are his own.