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Jobs will be wiped out with Alberta’s pause on renewable energy: industry group

An industry group says Alberta's decision to pause approvals of new renewable energy projects is putting the lives of thousands of workers on hold. Solar panels pictured at the Michichi Solar project near Drumheller, Alta., Tuesday, July 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh. JMC

An industry group says Alberta’s decision to pause approvals of new renewable energy projects is putting the lives of thousands of workers on hold.

Iron and Earth, a group that assists fossil fuel employees transition to the renewables industry, says the United Conservative Party’s announcement last week for a moratorium on renewable projects will wipe out a season on work.

Director Luisa Da Silva says those workers have bills to pay and many are likely to leave the province if they are essentially asked to not work.

Alberta government figures suggest about 10,000 people work in solar and wind installation. Although that figure is dwarfed by fossil fuel employment, jobs in renewables are estimated to be growing at about 10 per cent a year, while oil and gas jobs have been declining for years.

In early 2022, there were 3,425 unfilled positions in the industry.

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“I don’t know what their thinking is,” Da Silva said. “But I don’t think it’s fair to ask people to not work and to basically shut down the industry for six months.”

Meanwhile, video has surfaced of Rob Anderson, Premier Danielle Smith’s chief of staff, describing the renewable industry as a scam.

The video was made in 2021, before Smith re-entered politics in May 2022.

Smith’s office has not disavowed the video, which appears to have been made for The Western Standard, a conservative news outlet. Global News has not verified this video.

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Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Opposition NDP’s utilities critic, says Anderson’s remarks are an insult to the thousands of Albertans who work in the industry.
“What are we doing?” Al-Guneid asked in a news release Wednesday. “Since when does the government shut down a booming industry and send these confusing signals to investors and Albertans? It’s cancelling good trades jobs and impacting our reputation as an investment destination. It is mind-boggling.

“These comments are insulting. They insult the thousands of hard-working Alberta tradespeople and businesspeople who provide low-cost, low-emission electricity for homes, businesses and farms across Alberta.”

The UCP government says its decision is just a pause to figure out a plan. However, Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said he thinks it “sounds like a signal to investors to not invest in renewables in Alberta.”

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“It’s a signal to the federal government: ‘We’re not interested in getting to net-zero,’” he added.

Before this moratorium announcement, the province could have made the argument it has already switched from coal to natural gas, Bratt said. He added the provincial government could also argue that it is going to be easier for hydro-powered provinces like B.C., Quebec or Manitoba to reach the federal government’s goal of a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 than for provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan.

On Tuesday, federal Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said billions of dollars in federal tax credits and grants will be tied to progress toward Ottawa’s target for a net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s environment and protected areas minister, said on Tuesday that she believes Wilkinson “announcing in a press conference a threat to withhold funding isn’t really the right way to start a conversation.”

“Starting out from a position like that is not the way to enter a discussion in good faith.”

“(The Alberta government’s) argument has been greatly undercut by the actions that they’ve taken over the last week,” Bratt said. “Because now it appears not only are they going to make the case: ‘We’ve made progress, we’re trying to make progress, this is too tough a timeline for us, other provinces have it easier,’ to, ‘No, we are going to stop progress on getting to net-zero and how dare you stop the flow of federal funds to our province for green energy when we’re going to stop green energy in its tracks.’”

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Wilkinson told Global News on Wednesday that he agrees with the underlying point that lawmakers “have to be concerned about affordability for people,” but noted he also believes Alberta’s history shows the province is more than capable of taking on the renewables challenge.

He referred to the transition from coal to natural gas — a process that was finished seven years before the estimated completion time, and said Alberta has the fastest-growing renewables market in the country.

“What we’re saying to the province of Alberta is, ‘Look, this has to be done affordably, it has to be done in a manner that ensures reliability — we want to work with you on that. But at the end of the day, seizing those economic opportunities that we all want to see (and) creating thousands of clean jobs requires a clean grid,’” Wikinson said.

As for how to handle the situation going forward, Wilkinson said the parties need to sit down together to discuss concerns and flexibility and to find a solution that works for everyone.

“I think that rather than talk past each other, I think we need to talk to each other,” he said.

 

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