The recent suspension of all approvals for large renewable energy projects in Alberta, Canada, speaks to a reality that many are unwilling to acknowledge – that the headlong rush towards ‘green’ energy isn’t always as beneficial as it is claimed to be. As outlined in Bob Weber’s article for The Canadian Press, Alberta’s United Conservative government has responded to mounting concerns over these projects, which touch on land use, environmental impact, and the stability of the energy system itself. And rightfully so, given the disruptions and potential hazards they pose to established communities, landscapes, and industries.
In his article, Weber states,
“In a statement Thursday, the government said the Alberta Utilities Commission is to institute a six-month moratorium on approving all wind and solar power projects greater than one megawatt over issues of development on agricultural land, effect on scenery, reclamation security, and system reliability.”
Here we see a responsible, pragmatic move by the Alberta government, acknowledging the concerns of the people they serve.
Contrary to what advocates of the green revolution may believe, the transition to renewable energy is not an unblemished panacea. Energy policy requires a considered, balanced approach that takes into account not just the end goal, but the means of reaching that goal. As Paul McLaughlin of Rural Municipalities Alberta points out,
“Rural municipalities cover roughly 85 per cent of Alberta’s land and their voices must be included in the approval process for all renewable energy projects.”
Even the push for cleaner, renewable energy had value, it should not override the rights of communities and the importance of preserving landscapes. To bulldoze ahead with large-scale solar and wind farms without consideration for local environments and agricultural lands is not progress, it’s recklessness. And it’s this kind of reckless disregard for consequences that has led to the situation we’re seeing in Alberta today.
Even more critical to this discussion is the argument raised by University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach about the government’s inconsistent approach to the renewable energy industry compared to the oil and gas industry. He pointed out the disparity, saying,
“No one can imagine in the middle of an oilsands boom everyone saying what we need is a six-month moratorium on new approvals until we figure out how we’re going to manage cumulative effects.”
This is a sound point. It’s curious how the same caution and regulatory oversight applied to renewable energy are not seen with the same degree of urgency and stringency in the oil and gas industry, which arguably has a more significant environmental impact. Leach further highlights the ironic twist, noting that
“while the government has stopped renewable energy partly over concerns about how such sites can be cleaned up, it faces billions of dollars in environmental liabilities from the oil and gas industry for which it has little security and no real cleanup plan.”
Alberta’s decision, although controversial, may serve as a much-needed reality check on the green rush.