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Renewable energy workers say Alberta’s pause will wipe out season of work

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

“You’re asking people to put a pause on their lives,” said Luisa Da Silva, director of Iron and Earth, a group that assists fossil fuel employees transition to the renewables industry. “You’re asking people not to work.”

A week ago, Alberta’s United Conservative government announced it had directed the province’s utilities regulator not to approve any more renewable energy projects, citing what it says are rural and environmental concerns. The Alberta Utilities Commission is to hold an inquiry, reporting in February.

The move stranded dozens of proposed projects worth billions of dollars in a province that had, until then, been an industry leader in Canada. The pause was widely criticized by economists and companies whose projects are suddenly in limbo.

Industry was not consulted before the move.

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.

“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.”

Da Silva said the effect of the pause is likely to last much longer, as both the pause itself and the uncertainty of its result will affect planning for next year’s construction season and beyond. It comes as other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States are ramping up their renewable energy.

“What’s going to stop workers from going where the jobs are?” Da Silva asked. “Not much.”

Sam Blackett, spokesman for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, defended the pause.

“We can’t have an affordable and reliable power grid in this province without a reliable base energy source,” he said. “Today that reliable source is natural gas.

“Wind and solar power have an important supporting role to play … but only if developed in a manner that is affordable, reliable, environmentally sustainable and preserves Albertans’ most precious natural landscapes and prime agricultural land.”

Meanwhile, video has surfaced of Rob Anderson, executive director of Smith’s office, describing the renewable industry as a scam.

The video was made for The Western Standard, a conservative news outlet, on Nov. 4, 2021, before Smith re-entered politics and was still a lobbyist for an influential business group. The video was hosted by Bruce McAllister, who now heads Smith’s Calgary office.

“All this is, is a scam,” Anderson said. “This isn’t about the environment.”

Anderson accuses foreign companies of profiteering off government programs and despoiling Alberta’s landscape.

“We have one of the most beautiful, pristine landscapes in the world, especially the eastern slopes (of the Rockies),” he said. “These things (windmills) are butt-ugly.”

Asked if Anderson still held those views, Blackett neither disavowed nor denied them.

Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Opposition NDP’s utilities critic, said major corporations that use and supply renewable power would be surprised to hear it called a scam.

“This is a multibillion-dollar industry that has created thousands of jobs,” she said. “It is insulting to Albertans and to businesses and leaders who have been working in this industry for the last few years.”

Al-Guneid said legitimate concerns over land use and reclamation could easily be handled without the pause and called on the government to rescind it.

“What are we doing?” she asked. “Since when does a government shut down a booming industry?”