Alberta’s United Conservative Party, which is presenting itself to voters ahead of the province’s May 29 election as the best bet for addressing inflation and defending the energy industry, is accusing provincial NDP Leader Rachel Notley of hiding the cost of shifting the electricity grid to net-zero emissions by 2035.
Two top UCP MLAs vying for re-election, Brian Jean and Rebecca Schulz, held a news conference on Wednesday in which they said the 2035 goal will cost billions to achieve, and dent the economy.
The UCP’s campaign has characterized Ms. Notley as being in league with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. The federal government is preparing new clean-electricity regulations aimed at transitioning the country to a net-zero grid by 2035. Ms. Notley has said she supports the shift, but has not detailed how she envisions it unfolding in Alberta.
“It is the most expensive political promise ever made in Alberta history,” Mr. Jean told reporters.
The two MLAs pointed to a report released by the Alberta Electric System Operator in June. Relative to a non-net zero future, the report said, transitioning the province’s grid to net zero by 2035 would cost $44-billion to $52-billion between 2022 and 2041. This, the document said, would be 30 to 36 per cent more than in the reference case presented in the organization’s 2021 long-term outlook. The AESO’s reference case details what would happen if the province’s energy system remained on its current trajectory.
Asked for clarification on the UCP’s energy plan, Mr. Jean said in a statement that the party would instead stretch the electricity grid’s net-zero transition to 2050. When asked what that plan would cost, he said AESO’s math suggests it expects Alberta’s power-generating industry to spend $92.2-billion between 2021 and 2041. This level of spending, he said, would allow the grid to meet the 2050 net-zero commitment. The estimated $44-billion to $52-billion required to meet the 2035 goal, he said, would be additional to this.
Blake Shaffer, an economics professor at the University of Calgary and former head trader for TransAlta Corp., said it is fair to question whether it would be feasible to transition to a net-zero electricity grid by 2035. But he said the AESO figures skew the debate.
“The numbers in that AESO report are not credible,” he said, because costs for low-carbon energy technologies – such as wind, solar, nuclear, and batteries – have plummeted compared to what AESO used in its math.
For example, Mr. Shaffer said, the report priced solar power per megawatt hour at roughly double the current cost.
Kathleen Ganley, an NDP candidate running for re-election in Calgary, said in a statement that a net-zero grid will be important for attracting global investment. She added that natural gas, when paired with carbon capture, utilization, and storage, will still have a role in Alberta’s future.
Earlier on Wednesday, Nancy Southern, the chief executive officer of Calgary-based energy company ATCO, labelled government energy transition policies “inflationary by nature.”
Speaking at the annual general meeting of Canadian Utilities Ltd., an ATCO subsidiary, Ms. Southern said such policies are straining an overburdened system.
It is “painfully clear that the transition for energy will not be easy, nor will it be cheap,” she said, adding that governments, regulators and industry need to work together to ensure energy remains affordable and reliable.
She said the transition “will also require forthright acknowledgement that there is no one-size-fits-all” solution.
“Instead, the road to net-zero will depend on each region’s strengths, whether that be natural gas, carbon capture, hydrogen, hydroelectricity, nuclear, wind, solar and battery storage. And it’s imperative that all constituents work in concert together to determine the best solutions.”
ATCO and Canadian Utilities are at the nexus of the green transition, Ms. Southern said, but “face an uncertain business and regulatory context.” She argued that the race to net-zero could create reliability and affordability problems.