Hours after the province’s power grid operators warned that new federal electricity regulations could lead to blackouts, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said her government is preparing for the possibility of enacting its signature legislation in a effort to counter Ottawa’s planned emissions reductions.
“We’re preparing a motion for the Sovereignty Act and I hope we don’t have to use it. That’s why we’re at the negotiating table,” Smith said, referring to a recently formed working group in Alberta-Ottawa. focused on reducing emissions.
“But we will defend our constitutional jurisdiction to ensure that we develop our oil and gas industry at our own pace, and that we develop our electric system in a way that meets the goal of reliability and affordability.”
Asked when he might invoke the law, Smith said he has continually said he would do so if Ottawa “passes emissions limits that are unconstitutional.”
Citing Ottawa’s 2030 targets that require the oil and gas sector to reduce emissions by 42 per cent below 2019 levels, along with plans to make the electricity grid net zero by 2035, Smith He said such plans were “not in the works.”
“That’s why we’re continuing the negotiation. If we can align in 2050, then we won’t have to build a fence to protect our constitutional jurisdiction. So the ball is in your court,” Smith said.
Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, which was passed late last year, has the stated purpose of directing provincial agencies to ignore federal laws deemed unconstitutional, although there has long been controversy over how would work in practice.
Earlier this month on CBC West of center In the podcast, Smith said he recognized there was a need to set interim targets when it came to emissions reductions.
AESO is concerned about plans for 2035
Smith had called a news conference Thursday just two hours after the Alberta Electricity System Operator (AESO), the organization responsible for operating the province’s power grid, said Ottawa’s proposal. clean electricity regulations (CER) represent a disproportionate risk and cost to Alberta compared to other provinces.
Alberta relies on natural gas generation for both base load and peak demand, AESO President and CEO Mike Law told reporters Thursday. Natural gas allows for reliability and balances the intermittency of other assets, Law said.
He added that AESO’s analysis indicates that the way the CER is currently drafted will create reliability and adequacy of supply challenges for Alberta’s electricity system starting in 2035 and beyond.
“Regardless of how much intermittent wind and solar Alberta has, the provincial grid will need enough dispatchable generation to cope with the cold, dark, windless winter nights we have in this province and form our peak load conditions,” he said.
“Without that, in the worst case scenario, large areas of Alberta could be without power, creating significant risks to public health and safety. Now, to be clear, as operators of Alberta’s electricity system, we cannot and will not allow make that happen.”
He also warned of the “penal consequences” at stake under the drafted regulations.
“Individuals and organizations that fail to comply with those requirements or, in fact, breach the requirements of future regulations face the potential for criminal action,” Law said.
“It becomes extremely difficult for organizations, publicly traded entities, to justify at both the executive and board level the adoption of highly costly and long-term investment decisions that can expose individuals and organizations to criminal risks if they do not comply. with these strict obligations.
During a speech Wednesday hosted by the Canadian Club of Ottawa, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault called such characterizations a “fabrication.”
“I continue to see critics falsely claim that we will ban all gas generation by 2035, under threat of jail,” he said. “This lie is not designed to inform, but to inflame.
“But as fact-checkers play whack-a-mole with misinformation and name-calling around climate change, the cost of inaction continues to rise: a debt to our children and grandchildren that too few politicians talk about.”
‘Disinformation’ blackout threat: Guilbeault
During his speech, Guilbeault also said that any new gas-fired electricity generation after 2035 would require carbon capture technologies, with some exceptions. During his Thursday press conference, Law expressed skepticism about the viability of such technology in the near term.
“The uncertainty with the development of low-carbon technologies, whether carbon capture, hydrogen, small modular reactors, means Alberta is at increased reliability and cost risk if cost and performance do not materialize as currently anticipated,” Law said.
Guilbeault published the proposed CER regulations in August. The provincial government has frequently referred to those targets as too aggressive.
In a statement to CBC in response to Law’s comments, Guilbeault said the federal government was aligned with AESO on the goal of achieving decarbonization while maintaining affordability and reliability.
“These proposed regulations were designed with precisely these objectives in mind and, as a result, we have incorporated many flexibilities.. As this is a draft regulation, I very much appreciate the AESO and the Alberta government engaging with us on these,” he said. “I urge the AESO to publicly release its analysis underlying these claims.”
Guilbeault went on to say that any claim that building a clean power grid will cause blackouts is “misinformation.”
“The draft regulations are designed at least 12 years in advance of their entry into force, giving time to attract investments and adjust decision-making,” he stated.
Details should be published: U of C economist
Blake Shaffer, an economist at the University of Calgary who specializes in electricity markets, says it’s difficult to comment on the assessment released by AESO on Thursday, as details of its modeling work and the assumptions behind it have not been provided.
“For example, they used the term ‘2035 decarbonization scenario’ to frame their cost and emissions implications. So I’m left wondering: Did they model what the CER actually is? Because the CER is not a cliff in 2035. It will allow for new plants will operate until 2045,” Shaffer said.
“I partly blame the federal government for labeling it as 2035 net zero, because the actual details are not such… I would implore AESO to be transparent with their modeling, and that would really help generate a robust public debate.”
Shaffer said he was not surprised to hear the assessment that the road ahead will be a formidable challenge, something he himself has written to the federal government about in the past. However, he was surprised by the wording and what was presented Thursday by Alberta’s power system operator.
“It’s supposed to be an independent agency charged with maintaining Alberta’s reliability. When I hear things like there will be blackouts in 12 years, it’s a very unusual thing for a grid operator to threaten,” he said.
“It sounded more like a message we would expect, and I think we were hearing a moment ago, from the provincial government: that they want to get rid of the CER. The AESO’s role is to respond to policies, not to help lobby against it.”
The Pembina Institute, a renewable energy think tank, also called on AESO to release its modeling on Thursday, writing in a statement that the operator’s conclusion that CER would lead to a reliability risk in 2035 was “a big claim that must be issued in a two-page report.”
“We call on AESO to release the full analysis supporting this claim, including its assumptions for the growth of renewable energy, storage, transmission connections, and natural gas with carbon capture,” wrote Jason Wang, senior analyst at the Institute. Pembina.
“The risk of working with this new conclusion is that it cripples Alberta’s ability to plan a transition to a reliable, affordable, low-carbon electricity system.”