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Renewables pause in Alberta affecting 118 projects worth $33 billion, think tank says

After two decades in the oilpatch, Shawn Hubbard was tired of layoffs and uncertainty about the future.
A clean energy think tank says Alberta’s pause on approvals for new renewable energy projects affects 118 projects worth $33 billion. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith shares the government’s vision for the Alberta economy at a luncheon hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce in Edmonton on Thursday, July 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

After two decades in the oilpatch, Shawn Hubbard was tired of layoffs and uncertainty about the future.

“I was pretty much done with that after 20 years,” he said. “Getting the rug pulled out from under you gets tiresome.”

Hubbard, 50, took a short, free course on installing solar panels in 2021 and was working in the field by the next summer.

“I liked it a lot more,” he said. “The hours were similar but the pay was better.

“There’s plenty of work in renewables.”

Plus, as oil and gas continues to shed jobs, renewables seemed like tomorrow.

“Renewables seemed like a natural progression for energy generation,” he said. “It always felt like the future for me.”

Hubbard now works for the City of Medicine Hat to keep close to his family. But he fears the United Conservative government’s six-month pause on renewable energy approvals, announced earlier this month, will stifle an industry that presents a real alternative for workers like him.

“I was angry,” he said. “That’s a lot of work, a lot of jobs, that are going to be put in limbo.

“What are they doing?”

Hubbard’s fears were underscored in a report released Thursday by the Pembina Institute, a clean-energy think tank, about the scale of solar, wind and geothermal projects affected by the renewables moratorium.

The report said the pause affects 118 projects worth $33 billion. It said those projects would create enough jobs to keep 24,000 people working for a year and represent what could be $263 million in local taxes and leases for landowners in 27 municipalities.

Those figures come from the Alberta Electrical System Operator and Natural Resources Canada, said report author Jason Wang. They represent projects in various stages of development, from formal proposals to initial construction.

“Probably not all these projects will be built,” Wang said.

“But all these projects have investors talking about (building). We do see tremendous interest in Alberta.”

Several companies have already said they’re considering taking their money elsewhere.

The commission has said it would keep accepting applications and move them through the regulatory process, which Wang called the “least bad” approach. But it won’t issue any approvals until after it completes an inquiry into issues of land use and reclamation for renewables.

In an emailed statement, Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf said no projects are being cancelled and only 13 projects before the Alberta Utilities Commission are directly affected by the pause.

“There are 105 projects inaccurately listed by interest groups that are months, maybe years, away from even getting before the (commission),” Neudorf wrote. “The next construction season will be available for approved projects.”

But Wang said the vast majority of projects in the queue had planned to hook up to the grid by 2025, meaning the delay and uncertainty stemming from the inquiry will directly affect them.

New Democrat Opposition energy critic Nagwan Al-Guneid, who worked for years in both fossil fuels and renewables, said there are already reclamation provisions in existing legislation. Consultations on land use were already ongoing, she said.

”You can still be open for business while going ahead with these consultations,” she said. “A moratorium is not a solution.”

Al-Guneid pointed out the International Energy Agency says investment in renewable energy this year is projected to reach $2.3 trillion worldwide, with solar investment outpacing fossil fuels for the first time.

Having to wait until February for a report that might contain unknown new costs and regulations is not attracting any of that money to Alberta, she said.

“The reality is that there is a global transformation,” Al-Guneid said. “A responsible government needs to plan for all scenarios.”

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith was in Banff, Alta., on Thursday speaking to the Canadian Energy Executive Association.

She said Alberta producers are reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they emit during production, although she didn’t mention that production only represents about 20 per cent of the carbon released by a barrel of oil.

“We don’t need a just transition in Alberta because we don’t intend to transition away from oil and gas,” Smith said.

That’s exactly what Shawn Hubbard, the renewables worker, is afraid of.

“In the world, everybody’s moving forward.

“(Smith) is not taking our province into the future. Or even into the present.”