Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is placing the blame on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for her decision to issue a moratorium on the development of renewable energy projects in Alberta, which critics say amounts to an attack on climate action.

Last week, Smith claimed that the federal government was preventing further natural gas development, which she suggested is necessary as a backup for renewable energy generation.

“How can I bring on additional wind and solar if I’m not able to secure the reliability of my power grid by being able to bring on natural gas peaker plants?,” Smith said.

The premier blamed the federal government not for any specific ban, but for having created “so much uncertainty in the market.”

Her government’s moratorium on solar and wind projects in the province is set to be in place for seven months from August 3.

Keith Brooks, the programs director for the non-profit organization Environmental Defence, said in a statement that the decision is an “attack on climate action.” He noted that Alberta is a national leader in the development of renewable energy, and said the decision is equally bad for the economy as it is for the environment.

The Alberta government’s official statement indicated the moratorium is necessary because of a need to review policies and procedures relating to the approval of solar and wind energy projects, rather than blaming the federal government as Smith did.

As Alberta-based journalist Jeremy Appel pointed out in The Orchard, Smith’s decision has baffled energy experts, environmentalists and economists. The renewable energy sector is one of Alberta’s fastest growing, with $2.7 billion worth of new projects currently underway, and having attracted $25 billion in investment. Such projects have been particularly beneficial to rural Alberta, where the United Conservative Party’s principal voter base resides, Appel noted.

As reported by The Globe and Mail, Alberta’s renewable energy industry said it was “blindsided” by the decision, indicating that, contrary to Alberta government statements, they were not consulted.

Stephen Thomas, clean energy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, said in a statement that wind and solar are the cheapest forms of electricity generation.

“This move will further erode industry and international trust in the Alberta government’s commitments to climate action and affordable energy and is a confusing step backward for a province that is otherwise enjoying the benefits of renewable energy development,” said Thomas.

Who Supports The Moratorium?

Not everyone the Alberta government heard from supports new renewable energy projects, however.

Mark Mallett, a former CTV News journalist, leads an organization called Wind Concerns that opposes a wind power project near Elk Point, Alberta. When asked for comment, Mallett explained that his organization has called for a moratorium on new wind power projects, and that his organization sent press releases to the premier and other government ministries over a period of several months.

“Given the nature of the moratorium and its reasons as presented by the [Alberta Utilities Commission], in part, to listen to landowners, we’d like to believe that we have had an impact, along with other residents across this province who have raised the same concerns,” said Mallett in an emailed statement to The Maple.

Mallett recently described carbon dioxide, a major cause of global warming, as “the gas of life” and has publicly stated his belief that more carbon dioxide will produce better food growing conditions. Climate scientists have consistently dismissed this idea as misleading and ignorant of the negative effects of increased carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Among other reasons for opposing the Northern Valley Wind Project, Mallett has suggested that “wind turbine syndrome” is a possible negative health consequence of wind turbines.

Wind turbine syndrome has been described as junk science by its critics. Proponents of the idea include an Australian astroturf group called the Waubra Foundation, which was created by Peter Mitchell, an Australian who had served as the director of several oil and gas companies.

A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that the principal negative consequence of wind turbines can be annoyance, and that individuals’ annoyance levels depreciate the earlier they are consulted and integrated into the planning stages for wind turbine energy projects.

Economic Impacts

Reacting to the moratorium, the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) said in a statement that “Alberta’s renewable energy industry is already well regulated and rooted in strong policies.”

CanREA further stated that the moratorium will have negative economic consequences.

“Wind and solar are the most affordable forms of new electricity generation available on the market today,” CanREA’s statement reads. “Policy changes that reduce opportunities for renewables in Alberta will not lower prices for consumers. In fact, a pause will negatively impact ratepayers and limit consumer choice, which will be especially impactful for Alberta communities who are expecting revenue from new renewable energy development.”

According to a statement released by the Pembina Institute, the economic aspects of Alberta’s renewable energy sector are considerable. The think tank said that since 2019, roughly $5 billion has been invested in the sector, and 91 projects are awaiting permitting or approval.

These projects could power nearly five million homes, according to Pembina, roughly 25 per cent more than the province’s current peak system load. The think tank said these projects produce significant economic windfalls for their host communities, with Vulcan County now receiving 45 per cent of its total tax revenue from renewable energy projects.

“The summer has also shown that fires and smoke are making the growing costs of climate change all too real for Albertans and Canadians,” said Binnu Jeyakumar, electricity director at the Pembina Institute. “Accelerating the deployment of wind and solar energy in a responsible way is an essential part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

“Alberta’s renewable energy industry is a significant part of the Alberta energy sector and should not be unnecessarily halted at a time when Alberta urgently needs the lowest cost electricity generation that wind and solar projects provide.”

Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian from Montreal.

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