How do we move forward from Alberta's renewable moratorium?
Iron + Earth hosted a panel discussion on Premier Danielle Smith's sudden decision to pause renewable energy projects for 7 months.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s sudden, unprecedented decision to issue a seven-month moratorium on new solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power projects caught leaders in the fast growing industry and experts off guard a month ago.
The Alberta Utilities Commission, which approves permits from power projects, solicited feedback from stakeholders, which returned in the form of 609 pages of mostly negative responses.
On Sept. 7, Iron + Earth, a national non-profit that seeks to facilitate a smooth transition from non-renewable to renewable energy sources, hosted a panel discussion on Smith’s moratorium, featuring Iron + Earth executive director Luisa Da Silva and community engagement officer Stephen Buhler, and CBC News columnist Jason Markusoff. It was moderated by former broadcaster Don Hill.
The panelists discussed why Smith made this decision, which pro-renewable think tank the Pembina Institute said puts $33 billion in investment at risk, its impact on renewable energy workers and how the industry can move forward from the state stymieing its growth.
Da Silva, who lives in Ottawa, is a geoscientist by trade. She began her career working in the tar sands before working on various international mining projects.
She noted how the climate emergency, symbolized by the raging wildfires in British Columbia, requires a swift transition to energy sources that don’t exacerbate climate change.
“We have a lot of really talented people in this country that are committed to making this happen and if we can just give them some surety that there are sustainable jobs available for them, which there are, [then] we can meet that challenge,” Da Silva said.
“I became a machinist because I wanted to be able to work in a variety of industries. I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into just oil and gas.”
Buhler, a self-described “unicorn,” began organizing with local environmentalist outfit Climate Justice Edmonton in 2018 while he worked as a journeyman machinist in the oil and gas industry.
“I became a machinist because I wanted to be able to work in a variety of industries. I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into just oil and gas,” he explained.
Buhler is precisely the oil and gas worker both Premier Danielle Smith and NDP leader Rachel Notley invoke when they caution against a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.
Markusoff, who’s covered Alberta politics for 20 years, described himself more in the mould of an impartial analyst than an opinion columnist.
“I don't necessarily call spade a spade, but I really try to understand what spades are,” he said.
The Calgary-based pundit began by describing the rationale behind the renewable moratorium.
There is a very real backlash to renewable energy projects in rural areas motivated in part by classic NIMBYism and a genuine fear of the unknown, Markusoff explained.
“There are a lot of ranchers out there who are used to seeing fields of canola and wheat — these brilliant yellow colours, golden hues — as their landscape and now the idea of seeing solar panels, it’s jarring to them,” he said.
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