In a press conference last Monday, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith provided conflicting explanations on why her government implemented a temporary ban on large wind and solar energy projects.
Smith initially claimed that the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) had requested the moratorium. Smith stated that the AESO asked for a pause to ensure grid stability, while the Utilities Commission requested a pause to address end-of-life reclamation concerns.
However, neither letter actually called for a pause. The Utilities Commission letter called for policy action regarding the high volume of renewable and thermal power plant applications and their development on agricultural land. The AESO letter merely acknowledged the government’s plan to impose a moratorium after the moratorium was announced.
The Smith government has used the letter from the Utilities Commission (which was sent on July 21) as a basis for taking action. However, the letter from AESO indicates that the government had already made the decision to impose the moratorium before July 21.
Smith’s office has not responded to a request for clarification.
In contrast to Smith, Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf suggested that the government’s actions were not solely based on the letters. According to Neudorf’s statement, AUC and AESO sent their letters after numerous briefings and discussions with the Ministry of Affordability and Utilities.
Criticism has been directed at Smith’s government for announcing the moratorium without any prior notice or consultation with stakeholders. Smith’s move is seen as a threat to potential investments worth billions of dollars in the renewable energy sector.
On Monday, Smith stated that it should have been clear that drastic measures were forthcoming. She had previously discussed the need for natural gas to back up renewable energy. She had also expressed concerns about the use of farmland for renewable energy projects.
Smith dismissed concerns that the temporary ban would deter future investments, emphasizing that the review process has a firm end date of February 29.
The moratorium specifically applies to wind and solar power projects larger than one megawatt. The Utilities Commission will conduct an inquiry into issues related to development on agricultural land. The Commission will also study reclamation security, the impact on scenery, the role of municipalities, and system reliability.
With minimal regulatory barriers and ample wind and sunlight, Alberta has been a frontrunner in renewable energy development in Canada. In the previous year, 17 percent of the province’s power came from wind and solar, surpassing its 15 percent target.
The Utilities Commission currently has 15 renewable energy projects under review, with over 90 projects in various stages of development. Since 2019, corporate investments in renewable energy in Alberta have resulted in nearly $4.7 billion in capital and created 5,300 jobs.
Why did Alberta pause renewables? We still don’t have an answer.