Alberta commits to Sovereignty Act motion that rejects federal electricity regulations

On February 29, the province passed a Sovereignty Act motion to formally reject the federal Clean Energy Regulations (CER). 'We don't want to implement a Crown corporation, but we will,' said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

Alberta commits to Sovereignty Act motion that rejects federal electricity regulations
The Canadian Press / Jason Franson and The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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On November 27th, the province tabled a Sovereignty Act motion to formally reject the federal Clean Energy Regulations (CER). It passed on February 29, 2024.

Notably, Saskatchewan and Alberta have refuted those standards, citing concerns on the affordability of residential utility bills, backed primarily by a natural gas base load.

The resolution, tabled in the Alberta legislature, instructed provincial entities such as the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to ignore the CERs “to the extent legally permissible.” It does not apply to private companies or individuals.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith stressed the need for a private sector partnership with the province to shield the former from federal overreach, similar to the ongoing dispute between Saskatchewan and Ottawa.

“They don't want to be told to turn off on January 1, 2035, or that their directors are going to go to jail. That's what we're trying to mitigate against,” she told Rebel News.

Smith placed the dysfunction Wednesday solely at the feet of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who has repeatedly threatened provinces that fail to implement the regulations by 2030. 

“We have tried to work with Ottawa to align their emissions-reduction efforts with our provincial plan to achieve a carbon-neutral power grid by 2050,” she said last November.

“Unfortunately, after months of meetings, they continue to reject this opportunity and remain committed to an absurdly unrealistic and unattainable goal of a net zero power grid by 2035.”

Alberta hasn’t received many applications for new natural gas power plants citing the federal government’s “extreme policies” have worsened investor uncertainty, according to the province. The CERs “have created uncertainty and are driving away investment” that prevents Alberta from expanding its natural gas baseload power.

According to the United Conservative government, the mad dash for net zero electricity would increase the frequency of “brownouts” and “blackouts” in the province.

Additionally, the Sovereignty Act resolution urges the province to set up a Crown corporation to protect private sector companies providing electricity in the province. 

The resolution urges the province to use all legal means necessary to oppose the regulations, including legal challenges. The regulation of electricity is provincial jurisdiction under Section 92A of Canada’s Constitution.

It would commission new natural gas-fired plants, explore small-scale nuclear reactors, or acquire existing gas-fired plants to meet local power demands, should private companies “find it too risky” to do so under the federal regulations.

“I was just meeting with a solar company yesterday that is working on five major installations in our province,” Smith told Rebel, “And we had a very frank discussion about the reason why solar and wind are able to look at Alberta as a destination point.”

She cited the importance for industry and residents to have reliable access to affordable natural gas when wind and solar aren’t working.

“The only one who doesn't seem to realize that is the federal government and Steven Guilbeault.” 

“Do you have a timeline on its implementation?” Rebel News asked Smith. “We don't want to implement a Crown corporation, but we will,” she replied.

“In this environment, having solar and wind with natural gas as a base load, as well as developing as much hydro and hydro storage as we can, and small modular nuclear reactors, when it becomes available, is our pathway to in 2050,” Smith said.

“Those things take time, and you just can't rush technological change,” she reiterated on Wednesday.

Following the 2023 general election, Alberta’s Premier told Ryan Jesperson on Real Talk that Ottawa and her province “will be perfectly in sync with each other” if they maintain the 2050 target for carbon neutrality.

"Don't try to accelerate if the technology isn't there and the timeline is too fast," she said at the time.

During the interview, Smith acknowledged that Alberta’s electricity grid will use a mix of energy, but to expect them to replace its reliance on natural gas within 12 years is "not achievable."

"In Alberta, 90% of our electricity grid comes from natural gas, so you can't use the same lens here…like in Quebec, where they get the lion's share from hydro or nuclear," she said. 

The UCP says Alberta would face “disproportionate risk and costs” compared to other provinces, as a result of CERs, according to an analysis by the Alberta Electric System Operator.

It also claims following the federal government’s electricity approach could cost as much as $1.7 trillion.

"These projects take a long time to conceive [and] get the money [to fund]," Smith said last June, adding that constantly changing rules fuel uncertainty. 

Despite the push back on the proposed CER timeline, Alberta has reduced its electricity emissions by 53% since 2005.

"Even the Saskatchewan NDP has said a net zero power grid by 2035 is unachievable," claimed Smith.

On May 17th, the Saskatchewan Party and NDP Opposition voted unanimously to support the province's plan for affordable, reliable power generation to 2035 and beyond. That includes not phasing out conventional coal by 2030 or transitioning their electricity grid to net zero by 2035.

In contrast to Saskatchewan, Alberta made a “very aggressive” transition to natural gas after the former NDP government phased out coal early.

"We are based principally on natural gas, and Saskatchewan is based on a combination of coal and natural gas," said Smith.

It left billions in stranded costs that were worked into ratepayers' bills, according to the UCP leader.

Compliance with the CERs would increase residential electricity bills by 40%.

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