The government of the western Canadian province of Alberta is temporarily halting the approvals of large-scale renewable energy projects.

The Alberta Utilities Commission is imposing a moratorium on the authorization of wind and solar power projects exceeding one megawatt. The moratorium, which will last for six months, was announced on Thursday.

The move was triggered by concerns related to rural areas and the environment. These concerns include scenery impact, reclamation security, and system reliability. The government is also concerned about the loss of rural land.

Through the moratorium, the government aims to ensure certainty and clarity for long-term renewable investments.

Alberta has been a frontrunner in renewable energy development in Canada. 17% of the province’s power came from wind and solar in 2022, surpassing the government’s 15% target. New renewable energy projects worth millions of dollars are currently under review by the Alberta Utilities Commission.

The moratorium is in response to concerns expressed during hearings regarding the growth in renewable energy. Alberta’s openness to renewable energy has led to an unexpectedly rapid energy transition. Earlier this year, Alberta’s estimated solar power production tripled in just one month.

Paul McLaughlin of Rural Municipalities Alberta expressed his support for the decision. He highlighted the significance of including the voices of rural municipalities, as they cover a vast majority of Alberta’s land.

However, environmental groups swiftly criticized the move.

The Canadian Climate Institute stated on social media that the pause in approvals would have negative consequences for businesses. They argued that while robust reclamation should be mandatory for all energy generation, the decision to halt approvals disrupts the market, creates uncertainty, and discourages investment in clean electricity.

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach also criticized the moratorium. Leach noted the irony of the situation, as a moratorium on oil well approvals in the midst of an oil boom would be unimaginable. He noted that the government’s treatment of the renewable energy industry differs from its regulation of the oil and gas industry, which is case-by-case and project-by-project.

Over the next six months, the Alberta Utilities Commission will conduct a series of investigations. Topics of study will include land reclamation, the use of agricultural and public land for wind and solar projects, and the role of municipal governments in selecting and reviewing project sites.