Arno Kopecky is an environmental journalist and author. His latest book is The Environmentalist’s Dilemma: Promise and Peril in an Age of Climate Crisis.
There is so much to admire in Alberta’s nearly seven-month moratorium on renewable energy projects that one struggles with where to begin.
First: the insouciance! That swishy indifference to global opinion and the judgment of history is something that I, afflicted by the Canadian fear of giving offence, can only dream of.
How else could the world’s fourth-largest oil producer cancel – no, sorry, pause – the development of oil’s up-and-coming rival? What a mic drop! Like that time Kanye West grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift. Boy, did that show her.
Cue the outrage, predictable as rain, cascading over Alberta Premier Danielle Smith like so many tailings off a duck’s back. Not that it won’t sting eventually. It’s been clear for years that a significant majority of Canadians are worried about climate change; that the federal Conservatives’ track record on this file is a major obstacle to their pursuit of the Prime Minister’s office; that even in Alberta, more voters want more action on emissions, not less. In light of all this, the UCP’s erection of a stiff prairie finger at carbon-free energy – along with the money it prints – reveals a remarkable tolerance for self-inflicted injury that impressively blends Zen Buddhism with Trumpism, like philosophical dilbit.
Then: the timing! Alberta’s boreal forest is burning in the north, the province’s farmers are enduring cataclysmic drought in the south, oceans are boiling and ice caps are melting and whole continents are sizzling – do you really need me to recount the catalogue of horrors that have enveloped the world this summer? You do not, and neither does the UCP. And somewhere in the upper echelons of Alberta’s UCP communications tower, someone correctly surmised: this is the moment of maximum shock value, so let’s make that announcement.
Of course, there’s irony galore to savour, a phlegmy undercurrent sticking to and dripping from the entire affair. Not around the decision itself, mind: What could be less ironic and more on-brand than Conservatives attacking renewables? This is a dog biting, a boxer punching, played straight as an Edmonton street. But the arguments invoked to justify the moratorium: that’s where the phlegm thickens to bitumen-grade viscosity.
Take the title of that press release (or is it a policy?): “Creating certainty for renewable projects.” Truly, nothing generates certainty like an out-of-the-blue seven-month freeze on an entire industry, the prospects of which now appear greatly diminished. Doubt banished! Finally, we know exactly how the UCP feels about non-carbon-emitting energy.
Then consider the meat of the announcement itself, where the irony achieves a higher plane, elevating itself into first-class trolling. “This inquiry,” reads the press release, “will look at issues including the impact of power plant development on Alberta’s pristine viewscapes.” Let us not cast so much as a backward glance at the Rocky Mountain slopes that Jason Kenney’s UCP government allowed to be strip-mined for coal in 2021 (until backlash led to a reversal), nor the tailings ponds that are visible from space.
“Mandatory reclamation security requirements for power plants” are also part of this inquiry’s purpose. Ms. Smith elaborated, via X (formerly Twitter): “We need to make sure future projects … are properly cleaned up when no longer in service. Let’s get this right for future generations.” The MAGA-hatter Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, added that “Alberta should have rules that ensure landowners and taxpayers are not burdened with the significant environmental cleanup of renewable energy projects.” I burst into applause upon reading these lines, given how brazenly they connoted the languishing state of the oil and gas industry’s own environmental cleanups: The estimated $260-billion needed to deal with infrastructure and waste that the industry has left behind (including orphaned wells and unreclaimed tailings ponds), the industry’s cumulative $220-million in shirked municipal taxes, and the health risks to the First Nations communities downstream of the oil sands. Not to mention the effects on climate change more broadly.
Ms. Smith must have been wondering how she could outdo her predecessor’s Inquiry Into The Foreign Funding Of Climate Activists Who Are Wildly Out-Funded By The Foreign-Owned Oil Industry, or whatever name the UCP government landed on. Ms. Smith can now say that Mr. Kenney’s doublespeak was the stuff of amateurs.
None of which, if you can forgive an earnest moment, is to say that windmills and solar panels don’t have environmental issues of their own. Of course, these technologies also have life spans, and they need to be regulated. It’s just that – ah, heck. Let’s get back to whimsy. Surely no scientist or organization has ever pondered what to do with spent solar panels and wind turbines, nor could the UCP have been expected to study the matter over their past four years in power under two premiers. The government has been so busy devising new subsidies for fossil fuels that it hasn’t had a moment to consider the downstream effects of the clean-energy boom sprouting in its own backyard – one that last year accounted for 75 per cent of Canada’s growth in installed capacity for wind and solar power.
And so: Viewscapes! Environment! Responsible development! Future Generations! Top marks for using the language of environmental activists against us.
Last but not least: By taking a sledgehammer to the free market that had been treating renewables so well, the UCP has finally found a way to make the opposition NDP, which it has long maligned as socialists, mount a fierce defence of capitalism. “This is about shutting down a growing part of the energy economy,” tweeted Shannon Phillips, the NDP’s former environment minister. “Alberta will miss out on growth.”
Save it for Davos, sister. These folks don’t need your advice. They know just what they’re doing.