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Alberta says advisory report shows federal electricity targets are 'reckless'

Power transmission lines and wind turbines as seen with the Rocky Mountains in the background near Pincher Creek, Alta., Thursday, June 6, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — The Alberta government pointed Tuesday to a new report from a federal advisory committee, calling it proof that Ottawa should abandon its "reckless" 2035 clean electricity targets.

But the chair of the committee behind the report said its recommendations are aimed at toning down the political rhetoric around clean power and helping Ottawa and the provinces find common ground.

The federally appointed Canada Electricity Advisory Council — a group made up of industry leaders, Indigenous leaders and executives — released a report Monday with suggestions on how Ottawa can accomplish its goal of decarbonizing the country's electricity grid.

The federal government, in its draft clean electricity regulations released earlier this year, has set a target date of 2035 to get the country's electricity generators to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta and Saskatchewan, which have limited access to clean hydroelectricity and are still heavily reliant on natural gas for electricity production, have both said the date is unattainable.

While Alberta has seen a rapid expansion of wind and solar power in recent years, the province has said the intermittent nature of renewable generation means natural gas is still required to ensure reliable and affordable electricity supply.

While there are options to reduce emissions from natural gas power generation, such as carbon capture and storage, Alberta has said it will take time to deploy them.

The province has said it will work toward a 2050 net-zero grid instead.

In its report, the Canada Electricity Advisory Council acknowledged that decarbonizing electricity production will be a "daunting" challenge in jurisdictions like Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The council recommends that these provinces receive targeted federal financial support, and suggests investment tax credits for emissions-reducing technology should be "skewed" towards the jurisdictions that most need the help to decarbonize.

The council has also recommended that the federal government be "flexible" around some of its expectations when it comes to these provinces.

"What we think is doable is getting to the ultimate 2050 goal ... We didn't stick to a particular time frame," said Philippe Dunsky, the founder of Dunsky Energy and Climate Solutions and chair of the federal advisory committee, in an interview.

"We didn't say it has to be 100 per cent done by 2035. I think there's a little bit of wiggle room."

Still, Dunsky said the energy transition is "happening, whether we want it to or not" and all parties involved need to work together in a "thoughtful, pragmatic way."

"On one hand, I don't think that we should be stuck on an absolute hard date. On the other hand, I don't think that we should use that wiggle room to get ourselves too much in the way of (what needs to be done)."

The Alberta government issued a statement Tuesday in response to the release of the advisory report, in which it said the report supports the province's stance that "one-size-fits-all" electricity regulations are unrealistic and setting it up for failure.

Premier Danielle Smith, who gave a speech Tuesday at an energy sector conference in Calgary, did not address electricity specifically but said the federal government's attempts to legislate climate targets — such as through its proposed emissions cap on the oil and gas sector — are not helpful.

"When it comes to the issue of emissions reduction, we've got this," she said, adding Alberta's largest companies have made their own commitments to net-zero by 2050 and are exploring technology to help them get there, but it takes time.

"It's not necessary for the federal government to create uncertainty by putting in arbitrary timelines that are unachievable."

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that Alberta's response to the advisory report is "just politics."

He said the federal government has been listening to Alberta and Saskatchewan's concerns around the need for flexibility, and aims to release a revised version of its clean electricity rules later this year.

"What the (advisory council) report says is, we do need to move toward a clean grid, and we need to do so in a manner that reflects concerns around affordability and reliability," Wilkinson said.

"It's a good report ... that's exactly what we've been working on for a long time."

— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2024.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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