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Solar panels stand at the Michichi Solar project near Drumheller, Alta., on July 11, 2023.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta is endowed with abundant resources.

The province’s economy of course is built on fossil fuels. But throughout Alberta’s southern expanses – as anyone who lives there or has visited can attest – there’s a lot of sunshine and a lot of wind. These natural resources are part of the reason Alberta last year attracted almost all of the private capital invested in solar and wind power in Canada.

Potential resources aren’t enough. Alberta is also well known – usually – for its business-orientated culture that rewards taking risks. In the late 1940s, Imperial Oil drilled a series of 133 wells. All of them came up empty. Then, near Edmonton, a gusher erupted at Leduc No. 1, launching Alberta’s oil industry.

What helped launch solar and wind power in Alberta was the province’s electricity market, unique in Canada, where sellers of power can strike deals directly with buyers. This propelled renewable power, including in 2021 when Amazon agreed to buy the majority of the power from what would become the country’s largest solar farm. That underpinned Amazon’s plans to invest more than $3-billion at a new facility in Calgary and Alberta was dubbed the country’s capital of wind and solar power.

It seemed like a perfect story: the province that was Canada’s leader in the 20th century energy of fossil fuels would be the country’s leader in the 21st century fuels of solar and wind.

That ended last summer, when Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party halted solar and wind project approvals. The government said the industry was growing too fast. Alberta has never shut down new oil projects in the face of breakneck development, not even in the mid-2000s when growth in the oil sands was unruly and former premier Peter Lougheed called for a pause.

Last week, the province lifted the clean power halt but issued new rules (with more to come) that apply only to one industry. It is an attack on private business and it’s an attack on landowners’ rights. It is un-Albertan – the exact opposite of the principles the province holds dear.

The main restrictions limit where projects can be built but the UCP hasn’t released key details. There is talk of “pristine viewscapes,” affecting as much as three-quarters of southern Alberta, yet the only certainty at present is fossil fuels will not face the same restrictions. The bottom line is the Alberta government will prevent private landowners from doing deals of their own volition with developers of renewable power. It’s hard to imagine Ms. Smith preventing an oil or natural gas well on private land in the Foothills because it would mar the view of the Rocky Mountains.

This government attack on one industry is not a random event. While Ms. Smith says she supports net zero emissions by 2050, her actions are effectively working to ensure Alberta falls short. She opposes Ottawa’s goal to cut most emissions from power generation by 2035. Alberta is, she claims, “a natural-gas province.” Favouring fossil fuels and slowing clean power is the UCP strategy.

This thinking isn’t new. When Jason Kenney was premier, and Amazon invested in Alberta because of clean power, the government didn’t even mention solar power. In last week’s provincial budget, the word oil appears 126 times. The word solar appears once.

There are absolutely challenges in the development of renewable power, the same as with any form of energy. There are questions of transmission infrastructure and the need for widespread battery storage. Alberta is investing billions of dollars to subsidize carbon capture for the fossil fuel industry. Where is the public money for solar and wind?

There’s plenty of investor money. Companies plowed $6.3-billion into clean power in Alberta since 2019, according to Business Renewables Centre-Canada. Proposed projects through to 2028, if they can proceed, could attract $36-billion. That’s big-time money on the scale of the oil sands boom of the 2000s.

Clean power is taking off across the country and around the world. British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are all readying major investments. More than half the electricity in the industrial powerhouse of Germany is generated by renewables. In Alberta, it’s less than 20 per cent. It could be much more – if Ms. Smith and the UCP weren’t purposefully trying to prevent a burgeoning industry from succeeding.

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