Source: Green Energy Futures/Flickr

Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) Premier Danielle Smith announced a ban on new renewable energy projects. The order, which was released on August 3rd, instructs the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to halt project approvals of all new renewable energy plants set to generate more than one megawatt of energy, until February 2024. This policy comes out of nowhere, with no individuals or groups asking for it publicly. Given the skyrocketing price of electricity, and the inevitable loss of jobs in renewable energy that will result from this ban, this move economically hurts the vast majority of Albertans. The only group that stands to gain from this are the competitors to renewable energy: oil and gas companies. 

Why is the UCP introducing this moratorium, and why is it doing so now? Smith’s most repeated explanation is that she was asked to do so by the AUC in a letter sent to UCP minister Nathan Neudorf. However, the AUC’s letter does not request a moratorium. A sister letter sent the same day from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), also addressed to Neudorf, states, the AESO will support the AUC in its implementation of a government directed six-month temporary pause on new Power Plant Applications.” Clearly, the AESO and AUC already knew about the moratorium before sending their regards. So how could these letters have incited the policy? Smith refused to clarify. Later, Smith claimed that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) had asked for this moratorium. The president of the RMA stated that the RMA did not ask for this. Clearly this is something concocted entirely by the UCP even if they refuse to admit it.

The more serious justifications for the moratorium are focused on environmental concerns regarding land occupied by out-of-commission renewable energy plants. In the letter sent by the AUC, they note that little has been done by the developers to deal with old equipment. While this concern is reasonable, a ban on new projects will not solve the issue of abandoned old projects, and given the UCP’s relationship with the oil and gas industry, the UCP feigning concern for the environment is a complete joke.

All’s fair in industrial nepotism

It is widely known, and is even a point of campaign advertising, that the UCP is the party of oil and gas. Since assuming power in 2019, they have implemented a series of tax breaks and subsidies for the industry. These include the elimination of the Well-Drilling Equipment Tax (WDET) and a three-year property tax holiday for new oil wells, both of which went into effect in 2020. The oil barons make record profits with these tax holidays, and get preferential treatment by the government when it comes to crown land leases, while that same land is now off-limits to their renewable energy competitors. 

Worries about solar and wind developments misusing public land ring hollow when considering the rampant criminal behaviour of oil and gas corporations. The feigned concern over ‘retired’ solar and wind plants taking up space is especially cheap considering the problem of the nearly 100 thousand orphaned oil wells in Alberta which pose serious dangers to the environment and to people who live nearby. Aside from this all-too-common poison leakage, tax evasion is a standard for the industry. The RMA reported earlier this year that the oil and gas industry owes at least $268.5 million to municipalities in unpaid property taxes. But unlike prospective renewable energy projects, this isn’t a serious matter to the UCP. Not the lost revenue, nor the environmental costs of oil and gas—seemingly nothing could outweigh the loyalty of the UCP to their friends in the industry. 

Another reason cited for the moratorium is the potential cost the province will be forced to bear if more projects are abandoned. Danielle Smith made this argument earlier this month, saying, “You’ve got 50 turbines—that’s a $25 million reclamation project.” But cost was not an issue when the UCP announced the RStar program, which plans to give $20 billion to oil companies to “incentivize” cleanup of their abandoned wells. 

Perhaps the most vapid and laughable justification for the policy is the idea that wind and solar farms may ruin Alberta’s “pristine viewscapes”—as if Smith and the UCP haven’t maintained a consistent lack of concern for the environment in the past. Perhapsthey truly believe that oil-soaked watersheds and wildfire smoke-covered skylines cause no aesthetic damage to the province’s landscapes. What this seems to boil down to is that Smith would rather look at pumpjacks than wind turbines. 

Gas capitalists win, everyone else loses

The effects of this moratorium will be harmful for the vast majority of the province. With Albertans already dealing with sky-high utility bills, limiting the possibility for new power sources will only strain the grid more and continue the upward trend in costs for regular people. Reliance on existing natural gas plants as the sole providers of energy alongside increasing demand will mean that prices will continue to rise.

On top of higher bills, this move threatens 118 projects, accounting for $33 billion of investment and 24,000 job-years, according to a report by the Pembina Institute. Employment in solar and wind has been expanding by about 10 per cent consistently each year according to the government’s own figures. Renewable energy has been one of the few bright spots in Alberta’s economy. More than 75 per cent of all renewable projects in Canada in 2022 were based in Alberta. Jobs consistently grew in renewable energy year over year, while jobs in oil and gas diminished. This demonstrates the blatant hypocrisy of the UCP, who love to wax poetic about free markets, getting rid of red tape, investment, and incentivizing private sector jobs. Their real concern is profits, and the profits of the oil barons in particular. 

It is clear that the UCP rules for the oil barons, and they will do everything in their power to enrich and protect them. Anything Danielle Smith says to justify this policy is a deflection, a lie, or a joke. In late August, after Alberta experienced an electrical “grid alert”, Danielle Smith said, “It is critical that Alberta add more base-load power from natural gas and other sources to our electricity grid.” This just weeks after cancelling $33 billion in new renewable power sources. It’s hard to tell whether to laugh or cry. This shows that the UCP is unfit to rule.