Federal clean electricity rules would cause disruption and price spikes, Alberta says in official response

‘It’s completely unrealistic and it is also completely disrespectful of the Canadian constitution,’ said Alberta’s environment minister

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OTTAWA – Alberta has officially submitted a response to the Liberal government’s plans for a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, calling the plan expensive, unrealistic and unworkable and vowing to oppose it.

Earlier this year, Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault released a plan for a national net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

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Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Protected Areas, said her province opposes any interference in electricity systems as outside the federal government’s jurisdiction, but this plan is also unworkable.

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“It would drive up costs for everyday Albertans and Canadians and put our electricity grid at risk. It’s completely unrealistic and it is also completely disrespectful of the Canadian constitution,” she said.

The Alberta government submission argues for keeping a significant role for natural gas through carbon capture and storage and using natural gas to create hydrogen. While many Canadian provinces use nuclear or hydro power as their baseload power, Alberta relies heavily on natural gas.

Alberta’s submission argues this means the province will pay more than any other to get to net-zero. It points out that the federal government estimates it would cost $58 billion to get to net-zero and $35 billion of that would be borne by Alberta alone.

Alberta has launched a significant advertising campaign against the regulations warning about blackouts and price spikes because of the new rules.

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The federal government’s current regulations allow for natural gas driven electricity production for 20 years after a plant is commissioned even if that extends past 2035. It also allows for small amounts of natural gas power past that in peak demand periods.

Schulz said the federal government has been inflexible and unwilling to work with the province on changes.

“We want to work with them to map out exactly what that looks like in an intuitive way that doesn’t risk affordability and reliability of our grid,” she said. “What we’ve done in this submission is provided the actual detailed analysis of why these proposed federal regulations will absolutely not work.”

The province’s submission also argues the government is being too strict in its push for a 95 per cent capture rate for carbon capture and storage systems, which is not technically achievable with current technology.

Schulz said Alberta will get to net zero and is looking at options like small modular nuclear reactors, possibly hydro power, but can not make the 2035 target without a significant cost to consumers and creating a more unreliable grid.

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She said if the federal government isn’t prepared to work with Alberta, the province is prepared to push back through the courts if necessary.

“We haven’t seen that flexibility yet and I mean the Premier has said we will use every tool we have to protect our constitutional jurisdiction.”

In an op-ed in the Calgary Herald, Guilbeault said the targets Canada is setting out are similar to targets in the U.S. and other G7 countries, and other Canadian provinces like Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are working with them to find a way to net-zero, taking advantage of large tax breaks the government is offering.

He said behind the politics, others are working with the government constructively.

“Behind the curtain of Alberta’s inflammatory ad campaign, government officials from every province and territory are taking a collaborative approach to the current consultations on the draft regulations,” he said.

He also pointed out that Alberta was well suited to move to a clean-electricity future.

“Today, new solar and wind projects are cheaper than natural gas. Moreover, the province’s experience with carbon capture and storage projects in the oil and gas sector puts Alberta in an excellent position to deploy this technology with natural gas-fired electricity,” he said.

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Guilbeault was unavailable Friday, but a senior government official who spoke on background, because they are not permitted to speak publicly, said behind the politics in Alberta submission there are real technical arguments that could be the begining of a compromise.

“It is positive. The submission does offer a starting point for a dialogue, under all the bluster,” they said.

All provinces and electric utilities were invited to submit feedback on the clean electricity rules by Thursday. The government has said the final rules will be in place by 2024.

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