Alberta Government Should Reverse Harmful Rules that Limit Renewable Energy Development

The Government of Alberta finally released the electricity regulator’s report that was supposedly the basis for controversial new rules governing wind and solar energy development. It turns out the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) opposed pretty much every aspect of the UCP government’s 7-month moratorium, including changing the sector’s rule book. Alberta’s wind and solar energy development “pause” has turned from a bad idea into a fiasco.

So, Premier Smith commissioned the AUC report, then announced new policies directly contradicting that same document. University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski told the Canadian Press that the report is “an evidence- and reason-based wrecking ball that smashes the government’s talking points and policies with respect to renewables.”

No wonder Premier Smith didn’t release the report until two weeks after the new rules were announced.

What the AUC Report Actually Says

The government said that the AUC inquiry would “inform government policy decisions around the ongoing economic, orderly and efficient development of electricity generation in Alberta.” Four areas would be considered: development on “prime” farmland, the effect of wind turbines and solar farms on “pristine viewscapes,” reclamation of renewables equipment at the end of their life, and the siting of projects on provincial crown land.


Even though Premier Smith and Minister Nathan Neudorf frequently talked about “prime agricultural land,” there is no consensus about what that even means. Alberta has Class 1 and 2 farmlands. The AUC wrote that renewables development to date “favoured non-prime agricultural land,” mostly Class 2.

But even if all future projects are located on Class 2 land, the percentage of loss “is estimated to be less than one per cent by 2041.”

Yes, there are rural landowners who oppose wind and solar farms. But all legitimate concerns from rural Albertans could have been addressed through existing AUC processes.

“The existing regulatory framework is generally sufficient for the protection of environmental land,” the AUC wrote.

Basically, there was no need for a renewables moratorium to protect Alberta farmland.

Pristine Viewscapes

The AUC report was blunt on this point: “There is no universal definition of a pristine viewscape.” That is, communities and individuals don’t all agree about the need to “protect” Albertans from seeing wind turbines on the horizon. In fact, many observed that oil and gas pumpjacks, lease batteries, and the oil sands are far less attractive than a row of turbines.

The important thing is to have a process that resolves different points of view. The regulator committed to beefing up its “visual impact assessment requirements” during project reviews.


The UCP’s critics pointed out that Alberta has never required oil and gas companies to post security nor is there even a timeline for having to reclaim depleted wells. Yet, somehow, reclaiming a small amount of wind and solar equipment, some of it recyclable, much of it able to be refurbished to extend its life, was a big issue for the government.

The AUC diplomatically wrote that the “reclamation risk profile for renewable power plants is relatively lower than other industries’ reclamation risks.” Furthermore, reclamation requirements were already a common feature of agreements with landowners.

If the risk was low and the industry already provided security against future clean-up costs, why was reclamation considered to be a problem? A few issues needed to be addressed. Construction practices to reduce land disturbance, for example, and timelines for reclamation.

Again, this is an issue that could have been resolved using existing AUC rules.

Crown land

Not everyone agreed about how to use Crown land for wind and solar farms. First Nations and Métis communities worried about development affecting their constitutional rights. Some pointed out that connections to the transmission lines and the grid were not always available. But there was general support for using brownfield industrial sites rather than new land for projects.

The AUC’s recommendation is to “implement a new two-step land disposition process for Crown land dispositions by the government, and continue to rely on the existing process for review of power plant applications by the AUC.”

Alberta’s Electricity Development Challenge

New rules introduced by Minister Neudorf on February 28th were softened a week later. Still, the UCP government is creating large “no-go zones”, where renewable energy development cannot take place. These restrictions “would cut off rural Albertan communities from key tax revenues.”

This is a really bad time to have an erratic government in power. By 2050, Alberta will consume two to three times as much electricity as it does today. And that power has to be clean as climate policies tighten and industries lower the emissions-intensity of their supply chains.

This is a huge challenge. Governments around the world are grappling with this issue. The Alberta grid has to be much bigger, smarter, and cleaner, while remaining reliable and low-cost, in just a few decades. The new UCP government rules on wind and solar energy development do not help our province achieve that goal.