A solar facility in Southern Alberta.
A solar facility in Southern Alberta. Credit: BluEarth Renewables

Political folk wisdom says that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Obviously the Alberta government was feeling enough heat to overlook it. They released a wordy “fact sheet” Friday attempting to explain why no one should fret about the freeze on new renewable-energy electricity-generation projects. 

According to an accompanying statement by United Conservative Party “Electricity Minister” Nathan Neudorf, as Premier Danielle Smith recently called her utilities minister, the fact sheet was drafted “in response to misinformation being developed and released by interest groups.”

The timing of the statement and fact sheet suggest that Neudorf was attempting to respond to another fact sheet published by the Pembina Institute on Thursday. 

If so, that Pembina fact sheet must’ve landed in Neudorf’s office with an almighty thud! 

In that document, the Calgary-based clean-energy think tank estimated that 24,000 jobs and $33 billion in renewable-resource-generated electricity investments have been put at risk by the government moratorium and that 118 projects now in development “are either waiting for permitting approval or could submit an approval application within the next few months.” (Emphasis added.)

Apparently in response, the duelling government fact sheet claims “only the 13 projects” before the Alberta Utilities Commission for which approval is being sought now “will be paused.” However, since the government is accepting no more applications until the end of its seven-month moratorium, which began August 3, this effort to minimize its impact is not very persuasive. 

Indeed, it contradicts a statement in the document’s previous paragraph that “the pause temporarily stops the approval of additional projects.” 

Elsewhere, the government fact sheet says, “105 of the cited 118 proposals are months and in some cases years away from the application being presented to the AUC for approval.” This is spin. No convincing argument is made in the document that refutes the Pembina fact sheet’s analysis of potential risk.

A strong argument could be made – and one expects that it will be in the next 24 hours – that it’s Neudorf and the UCP who are doing the misleading – on this point, and others, in the government’s 2,500-word fact sheet and minister’s statement. 

For example, we have seen Premier Smith’s claims that the freeze was urgently requested by the AUC and the Alberta ElectricSystemOperator debunked by critics of the moratorium. Neudorf’s statement now phrases it as “the Alberta Utilities Commission’s pause.” The fact sheet itself is somewhat more factual: “The AUC asked the government for policy and regulatory clarity about the issues being considered,” it explained. “In response, the government chose to instruct the AUC to hold an inquiry on these issues.” (Emphasis added.)

This was done, the government document claims, “in fairness to the proponents of applications which had not been received yet.”

This may or may not be so, but it clearly was not accepted as being fair to the interests of the proponent companies, at least those the Reuters news service and Wall Street Journal reported have put their projects on hold and may pull out of Alberta. 

The statement repeats, at tedious length, the government’s position that for every kilowatt of electricity generated by renewable energy, such as wind and solar, an equivalent amount of natural-gas-powered generating capacity must be built for those times when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow. 

This is accurate enough to be dangerous, I suppose. Although it skips past the reality that peak energy use hours in Alberta often happen when the sun’s shining and the temperature’s high. But I’ll leave it to the actual experts to argue the merits of the government’s statement.

As for the claim that rural municipalities also demanded the freeze, which likewise appears to be an exaggeration at best, the fact sheet points out that they did too raise the matter forcefully – at the 2018 convention of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta. You know, when the NDP was still in power!

Elsewhere the government fact sheet, which is formatted like an Internet Frequently-Asked-Questions page, asks: “What is the plan for engagement with industry impacted groups?” 

“This pause creates the opportunity for serious conversation,” the response cheerfully begins. The question that is not answered, however, and the one that really matters, is: Why wasn’t the industry consulted or even informed about the moratorium before it was announced? On that, the fact sheet is silent. 

Another Question: “Are we going to miss out on investments because of this pause?” The answer: Yay Alberta! We’re No. 1! (My summary, not the government’s words, but read it for yourself and say I’m wrong.) 

While the UCP may be explaining, it’s not about to apologize. “Our government won’t apologize for putting Albertans ahead of corporate interests,” the fact sheet states defiantly, an absurd statement for a government whose leader says she prefers only to listen to CEOs for policy advice!

The government FAQ attempts to reassure potential investors that the UCP remains committed to the market-based system for electricity distribution. No comfort there for electricity users, of course. 

But, the document says piously, “competition ensures better quality products,” so I guess we can assume that, just like its oil, Alberta has the best electricity in the world too! 

Surprisingly, the fact sheet’s effort to blame Ottawa’s proposed clean-energy regulations seemed half-hearted. But the proposed federal rules make it especially important that Alberta “properly” develop renewables, it nevertheless insisted. 

Bottom line: Nothing is changing. The moratorium will continue. The principal criticisms of the freeze have been met with many words, but not really answered.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...