Albertans need more facts and less fearmongering about the federal governments new Clean Electricity Regulations, and certainly not the “scary new marketing campaign” the provincial government has rolled out to oppose the new rules, two senior energy analysts write in an op ed for the Edmonton Journal.
The provincial ads “paint a ghostly picture of rolling blackouts and surging power prices,” say Sarah Hastings-Simon, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, and Jason Dion, senior research director at the Canadian Climate Institute. “But Albertans need not fear this doom-and-gloom future.”
While the campaign targeting the federal government is focused largely on Albertans, it may not be winning hearts and minds: in polling released yesterday by the Calgary-based Pembina Institute, seven in 10 Albertans said the province is too dependent on fossil fuels, while 82% want the province to take an active role in laying out future job opportunities for oil and gas workers.
“Preparing workers for the energy jobs of the future should be the number one priority for all levels of government in Canada, and polling indicates this is what an overwhelming majority of Albertans want from their provincial government,” Pembina senior analyst Megan Gordon said in a release. “Alberta needs to work with the federal government to ensure Alberta workers can continue to be innovators in the energy sector.”
Against that backdrop, Hastings-Simon and Dion list three claims in the provincial campaign that “don’t stand up to scrutiny”:
• While the province says the regulations would force the Alberta grid to run on wind and solar alone, the draft published in mid-August allow gas plants to continue operating beyond the 2035 deadline for decarbonizing Canada’s power supply (much to the chagrin of climate hawks looking for a tougher target).
“Keeping electricity reliable throughout the transition to less-polluting sources is essential,” Hastings-Simon and Dion write. “That’s why the regulations allow for a wide variety of other power options to come into the mix, like natural gas power with carbon capture, energy storage, nuclear, and greater interconnection with neighbouring grids.”
• There’s “no credible analysis” to support Alberta’s contention that the regulations will double, triple, or even quadruple electricity prices, the two authors say.
“While meeting growing demand for electricity will require new investment up front, that’s true regardless of whether that power comes from cleaner sources or not,” they write. But “the cheapest electricity supply option is now a mix of wind and solar balanced with other power sources, like natural gas or hydro,” and “if the province commits to a clean power future, it will have help with the investment costs” courtesy of new federal funding for cleaner, smarter grids.
• Alberta claims it’s unrealistic to decarbonize the grid before 2050. But Hastings-Simon and Dion say the province’s own delays are the main obstacle to faster results.
Until the provincial slapped a seven-month moratorium on new renewable energy projects, affecting projects worth C$33 billion and 24,000 jobs, “renewables like wind and solar were booming in Alberta, due to their low costs and Alberta’s market-led approach to generation investment,” the two analysts note. While the provincial grid would eventually have struggled to accommodate that boom, “the real problem is that Alberta’s current market rules don’t sufficiently reward sources of grid flexibility that can balance renewables, while transmission planning is reactive rather than proactive.”
Instead of “banning renewables with little justification and scaring away prospective investors,” they conclude, the provincial government and the Alberta Electricity System Operator “should get to work leveraging the province’s natural strengths and use existing policy tools to do what experts agree is already possible: building a cleaner electricity grid that provides affordable, reliable power to Albertans.”
Early last month, Dion and Evan Pivnick, clean energy program manager at Clean Energy Canada, published an explainer on the Clean Electricity Regulations on the Canadian Climate Institute’s 440 Megatonnes blog. (Pivnick and Climate Institute research associate Christiana Guertin are both members of the community sounding board for Energy Mix’s Heat & Power e-digest.)