For any other jurisdiction, diversifying the economy away from fossil fuels while building a thriving renewables sector would be a good news story to celebrate and accelerate—not pause.
In western Canada, the province of Alberta is poised to become a renewable energy superpower. Sadly, Alberta’s leadership wants to destroy that prospect, threatening billions in renewable energy projects currently in development.
Without consulting the renewables sector, Alberta announced a pause of new approvals of renewable projects over one megawatt for the next six months.
Criticism of the moratorium was swift and ongoing. It’s not just Canadian companies impacted. U.S. investors are taking a hit. Texas-based Proteus Power Developments LLC has spent millions on plans to build three solar farms in the province. Like other leaders in the renewable sector, its CEO was given no warning about the moratorium. “We got screwed,” he told reporters. Other U.S. companies with projects at risk include a subsidiary of Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources LLC and EDP Renewables, a firm with headquarters in Texas and Spain.
Alberta Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf claims that the moratorium is motivated by complaints from rural communities and the need for policies for “land reclamation” and stability in the grid. The requirements for renewable developers could include mandatory security bonds, as well as paying for clean up of projects at the end of their life cycle. As the controversy continued, the Alberta Premier Danielle Smith blamed energy regulators for asking for the moratorium in letters—yet letters show no moratorium mentioned.
Where were these stringent requirements when oil sands tailings ponds were leaking chemicals into nearby Indigenous communities, causing damage to people’s health, the land, air, and water?
The provincial leadership’s sudden interest in checks and balances from the energy sector is curious at best, but reeks of hypocrisy. Where were these stringent requirements when oil sands tailings ponds were leaking chemicals into nearby Indigenous communities, causing damage to people’s health, the land, air, and water? Where is the concern that oil sands companies massively underpay for end of life cleanup, despite the frequency of oil spills? Internal documents from the Alberta Energy Regulator suggest cleanup of the tailings ponds alone would reach $130 billion. The regulator has only collected $1.6 billion for liabilities.
Once infamously known for its polluting oil sands industry, Alberta is now home to the fastest growth of solar and wind electricity generation in Canada. Last year, 17% of Alberta’s power came from wind and solar—exceeding the province’s 15% goal—and there are another 15 renewable energy projects before the Alberta Utilities Commission, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. A Clean Energy Canada analysis found in a net-zero 2050 Canada, jobs in Alberta’s clean energy sector would grow 10% a year out to net-zero 2050—the fastest of any province or territory—significantly more than the job decline expected in fossil fuels. For any other jurisdiction, diversifying the economy away from fossil fuels while building a booming clean energy sector would be a good news story to celebrate and accelerate—not pause.
Why is Alberta’s leadership so keen to shut this booming industry down when the moratorium is at odds with conservative free-market principles that are strongly upheld in the region? Even usual supporters of Alberta’s United Conservative Party are scratching their heads. Could the government be more interested in pursuing the ideologies of its leadership and scoring political points instead of lowering Albertans’ energy bills? Perhaps it also has something to do with the power of the oil and gas sector and their relentless lobby to ensure continued expansion of fossil fuel production. They are threatened by wind and solar being cheaper at scale now than fossil fuels and the simple fact that no one owns the sun and the wind. That means no long-term dependency on their products, no fear of scarcity to milk while they jack the price and reap record profits. Power (in every sense of the word) will be redistributed. Heaven forbid.
As we emerge from the hottest July ever recorded on this planet, every headline, TV, and radio soundbyte has a climate expert urging governments to act urgently. For countries like Canada that have never met a climate target, this is largely due to the oil and gas sector being the biggest and fastest growing source of emissions in the country. Unless the world collectively cuts emissions faster and deeper, scientists say Canada can expect more climate impacts, including more frequent wildfires and floods.
While these headlines feel ominous, they fail to demonstrate that all hope isn’t lost. A poll released in July 2023 finds a strong majority of Canadians support the federal government introducing Clean Electricity Regulations, including 64% support in Alberta. Meanwhile, nearly 9 out of 10 Canadians want the federal government to match or give more financial support to the renewable energy sector than the oil and gas sector.
Instead of making headlines worldwide for out of control wildfires blanketing skies in smoke from Washington to New York City, Canada could be known as a clean energy powerhouse. Alberta could help lead the way—but only if the province’s leadership doesn’t let rhetoric win over economics and our safety.
If Alberta’s leadership were truly credible, polluters would have to follow the same rules to ensure communities are safeguarded from all energy projects. Now is the time to uplift energy solutions that work for our economy and climate instead of doubling down on the volatile boom-and-bust cycle of the fossil fuel industry.