Alberta’s seven-month pause on renewable energy development is coming to an end, but new rules promise to restrict the sector even further, experts say.

Among the new rules Premier Danielle Smith announced Wednesday is a ban on new wind projects within a 35-kilometre buffer zone of protected areas and other “pristine viewscapes” chosen by the province. Other projects in the buffer zone could be subjected to a “visual impact assessment” before securing approval.

Smith also said the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates energy projects, will take an “agriculture first” approach, meaning crops and livestock will take priority over renewable energy proposals unless it can be demonstrated that the project can coexist with agricultural uses. Renewable energy developers will also be required to put money aside for reclamation; an environmental measure frequently shirked by oil and gas companies that has resulted in the province facing $33 billion worth of liability from inactive wells.

“Growing our renewable energy industry must happen in well-defined and responsible ways,” Smith said. “We need to ensure we're not sacrificing our future agricultural yields, or tourism dollars, or breathtaking viewscapes to rush renewable developments through.”

Simon Dyer, Pembina Institute deputy executive director, told Canada’s National Observer that Wednesday’s announcement will hamstring the renewable energy sector and raises more questions than it answers.

“If you put a 35-kilometre buffer on all protected areas in southern Alberta, that covers 76 per cent of the landscape,” he said, adding that the Alberta government hasn’t provided concrete details about how projects will be evaluated going forward. “I mean, if I was a wind developer and 76 per cent of that land [is affected], I'd be very concerned and ask for clarification.”

Map of Alberta showing the area affected by Wednesday’s announcement. Photo courtesy of CPAWS Northern Alberta

Smith said renewables have a place in the province’s energy mix, but stressed gas power will remain the cornerstone indefinitely. She described a “parallel process” that would see renewable energy added to the grid only with an “equivalent amount” of gas power to ensure gas can meet demand at all times. She said this was an important step to take because renewable energy is typically intermittent, and she wants to avoid blackouts, pointing to a cold snap in January that led to the province’s electricity system operator issuing alerts to residents to conserve power.

In fact, the reason for the power shortage was natural gas plants being offline. Renewable energy helped ease the strain on the system, according to the Alberta Electric System Operator.

“The province was the undisputed renewables capital of Canada... Now Alberta is undermining its own success, making it one of the only jurisdictions in the world trying to frustrate the deployment of cheap, clean, renewable electricity."

Speaking to reporters from Parliament Hill, Liberal MP George Chahal didn’t mince words. He said Smith is “continuing her ideological crusade against renewables” and is telling investors that Alberta is “closed for business.” He also noted Smith’s moratorium seven months ago on renewable energy development affected more than 100 projects, representing $33 billion worth of investment and 24,000 jobs.

“Danielle Smith is killing an industry and making life more expensive,” he said.

“Today, she essentially announced that with the new 35-kilometre rule, and layers of restrictions, the vast majority of Alberta is off limits,” he said. “The temporary moratorium has now become permanent.”

Chahal, who represents the riding of Calgary Skyview, also accused Smith of scapegoating renewable energy during January’s cold snap.

“All this begs the question: Where has this mismanagement got us? Under Jason Kenney and Danielle Smith's watch, electricity rates have quadrupled since 2019,” he said. “Smith's unfair treatment of renewables would only make things worse.”

Dyer said the new rules will negatively impact renewable energy development in the province.

“Some of these rules seem patently unfair and target an industry that supports reliable and low-cost electricity,” he said. “Many of these restrictions do not apply to other industries or land uses.”

By “inventing” new concepts like “pristine viewscapes” to restrict potential renewable energy projects, Dyer said Alberta appears to be using a double standard since other industries like coal mining or logging don’t face the same rules.

“It does appear to come from a bias around renewable energy… If you don't like renewable energy, I guess looking at renewable energy upsets you,” he said.

Other environmental think tanks and business groups were quick to criticize Alberta’s announcement.

Evan Pivnick, Clean Energy Canada’s clean energy program manager, said Albertans stand to lose the most from the new rules. He described Smith’s announcement as an “uncertainty bomb” for investors.

“Until last year, the province was the undisputed renewables capital of Canada, securing over $4.7 billion in new investment and bringing thousands of new jobs to the province since 2019,” he said in a statement. “Now Alberta is undermining its own success, making it one of the only jurisdictions in the world trying to frustrate the deployment of cheap, clean, renewable electricity.”

Clean Energy Canada research also suggests decarbonizing the province’s power grid could save $600 per household in utility costs because electricity generated from wind and solar is cheaper than gas. That’s an important affordability concern given Albertans pay higher electricity bills than residents of any other province.

Jordan Dye, Business Renewables Centre-Canada director, said in a statement that industry will need much greater detail from the province, saying they are missing from “just about every regulatory area they’ve announced new rules on.”

“By introducing three new regulatory frameworks without details, investors and developers are left wondering what this actually means for their projects,” he said. “While details are needed across all categories, particularly concerning is the continued vagueness of the viewscapes requirements.

“Any project that’s even close to a protected area, or what might be considered a protected area, can’t move forward until there’s certainty from the provincial government.”

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Danielle Smith, who is bat shyt crazy from the get go and the UCP are deplorable and this announcement is just for the fossil fuel industry benefit. So if renewals are prevent from building anything in the buffer zones, this should also apply to the fossil fuel industry that rapes and pillages the landscape. Smells of a double standard.

Smith's podium slogan "Protecting Alberta's electricty future" should have read, "Protecting Alberta's fossil fuel future".

I was pretty sure this, or something like it, was coming. But wow, actually seeing a province in my country being more regressive on climate change than Saudi Arabia or any of the other gulf oil states . . . it's kind of freaky.
I can see lawsuits in Alberta's future.

The lawsuits are coming.

We all knew Danielle Smith is an educated idiot. I never realized before that she’s a VINDICTIVE educated idiot. Blocking off ¾ of the province because she—or Rob Anderson—thinks wind turbines are ugly. I guess those pump jacks scattered all over the province are the epitome of attractive, aesthetic design. Right, Rob?

Smith’s ability to deny reality is frightening. There are plenty of places around the world with more renewable-energy generation than Alberta, and they’re doing fine. Her insistence that renewables MUST be matched with the same amount of fossil-gas generation is just stupid. The entire system, from coal to nuclear to wind and PV, is already overbuilt! That’s because any generator may shut down, either for scheduled maintenance or emergencies.

NOTE that the last emergency to make headlines here was caused by two of Smith’s favourite fossil-gas generators going into emergency shutdown because of the extreme cold. Hey, Danielle! This is exactly why God gave us grid-scale storage batteries.

The great irony is that wind and solar have been outcompeting gas and coal in power generation in Alberta's private electricity auctions for more than a decade on price alone.

Big wind and solar clients like Amazon buying huge amounts of renewable electricity in Alberta, not to mention wind and solar builders, landowners benefitting from leases and towns receiving generous tax revenue from these projects are probably discussing suing Alberta.

Smith and her myopic government cannot see the fork in the path before them. I don't believe a province can stop individuals from going offgrid with rooftop solar and batteries as long as they are not connected to the grid. The same may apply to First Nations or even entire towns with several hundred rooftop solar arrays that could feed into a municipal grid and large central battery bank. Just keep the system self-contained.

Similarly, I don't believe a province has a legal leg to stand on if it is against a federal effort to build a national smart grid ... just like the legal precedent of "sole jurisdiction" confirmed in the Supreme Court decision on TMX.

Taking this idea further, it's hard to see how a province can control any directly adjacent intertie connections to a federal clean energy corridor as long as it doesn't join the provincial grid or cross provincial assets like roads

It may be possible for farmers, towns and First Nations living adjacent to the federal corridor and to each other to operate their own grid independently from provincial control. Several farms separated only by private property lines could tie together and run a trunk line with laterals across several conjoined farms directly to the federal corridor where the power is purchased and stored in huge battery packs interspersed along the corridor for export to other parts of the continent.

For Alberta to fully regulate distributed power among private home owners and farners it will have ti create draconian laws and form a Solar Police Force to rip down rooftop solar panels. I don't think even an ideaologue and carbon industry puppet like Smith would go that far. But then again, if small private grids really start to cause thousands to disconnect from the inflated prices and pollution of a gas-fired grid, not to mention donations from her gaseous backers, maybe she actually would contemplate such Gestapo tactics.

If I was building and investing in renewables I would - as a group and with the ability for Albertans to join in - take the Alberta Government to Court.

This is rigging the level playing field to benefit the oil and gas industry.

While I didn't often agree with former premier Jason Kenney, he was correct in saying that the lunatic fringe has taken over the UCP in Alberta.

Yep. It's gone full on Looney Tunes, Yosemite Sam shooting himself in the foot. Elmer Fudd stumbling into walls. Mr. Magoo taking the low road and leading the province into decline.

First they go after social programs like education and healthcare with stupid moralistic prejudices on LGBTQ issues the majority of people have long ago accepted as part of life, and pandemic-related vaccination and masking conspiracies. Now it's their economic future.

The tail is wagging the dog in Alberta.

They're just toying with us; it's what they love most about winning the election, "owning the libs." Seriously; look at the smirks; Poilievre is the poster boy, spitting apple juice at the reporter next to him; Putin has the same signature expression.
Everyone heard the quote Denial made at that dinner recently, that our (the left) heads "explode" every other day about what they're doing. You know, our stupid snowflake heads that actually BUY the climate change scam, just like we did the "shamdemic."
They simply hate our guts and have for a long time. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the most negative emotion is also the most likely to "go viral," i.e. travel farthest fastest, like a lie does next to the truth. Social media making it exponential, as well as THE domain of younger people goes some way to explaining what's happening with Trudeau AND Biden right now. The medium is the message, and desire for solidarity surpasses all else with the legions of young/"low-information voters" out there.
These polls sound skewed in that direction, and seem to be increasing in frequency like some frantic need to whip up a frenzy AGAINST all of our best interests for the sake of the frenzy itself, while completely ignoring that the people "rising" in said polls DENY THE REALITY OF CLIMATE CHANGE. (Meanwhile, California is expected to get a "life-threatening" blizzard this weekend with 3 METERS of snow and winds over 100 km.)
So it's fun and entertaining for people like this just to upset "the elite, the establishment" or adults in general it seems. Thumbing your nose never gets old for some; maybe it's how they stay "young."
I heard a guy on the local news this last week complaining in all seriousness that it was a strain "living next to all that steel and glass," referring to a large solar installation.
Where's an army when you need one? We're going to need to storm the capital here.
At this point, stupid polls aside, reasonable adults are keeping an eye on our only saviour, the federal government, highest in the land, waiting for them to pull rank for all of us, just like we did during the convoy.