Alberta government only invites industry to consultation on new emissions regulations

First the province scrapped its carbon tax. Now clean energy advocates say they’re being shut out of talks about the province’s proposed new plan to deal with heavy polluters

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Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon (middle), Minister of Energy Sonya Savage and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen announce summer engagement on a new proposed emissions reduction system that would replace the carbon tax. Photo: Government of Alberta via Flickr

The Government of Alberta announced Tuesday it is beginning consultation on the emissions reduction system it hopes will replace the province’s existing carbon pricing for large emitters — but The Narwhal has learned no organizations working on environment or climate change issues have been included on the government’s list of stakeholders

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said at a news conference that the government is now “seeking feedback on an improved way to manage emissions” — the province’s proposed Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) system, which focuses on heavy emitters.

Nixon told reporters that government representatives will meet with approximately 150 stakeholders this week in Calgary, including representatives of the oil and gas, agriculture, chemicals, mining, forestry and electricity industries.

list of the stakeholders obtained by The Narwhal does not include any public interest groups.

The Pembina Institute, a clean energy think tank started in Drayton Valley, Alta., in the 1980s, told The Narwhal it was not invited to participate in the consultations.

“It’s highly unusual,” Simon Dyer, executive director of the Pembina Institute, said in an interview.

Dyer said he heard first about the consultation in a news story following the government’s announcement.

“It’s a worrying signal about how this government is going to collect input from stakeholders,” he said.

Jess Sinclair, press secretary for Alberta Environment and Parks, told The Narwhal by email that “because the [emissions reduction] framework is designed with heavy industry in mind, we are beginning the consultation process focusing on affected industries.”

“That said, we are happy to engage with other interested parties in the spirit of collaboration, should they approach us and have relevant information to share.”

Sinclair provided The Narwhal with a list of “companies we’re currently consulting.” They include the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and other industry associations, the so-called ‘Big Five’ oil giants and dozens of other companies. (The University of Alberta and the University of Calgary are both also included, as a result of their roles as producers of their own electricity).

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Clean power, right in the heart of fracking country

“Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Don Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year.” 


The Bear Mountain wind project in BC. Photo by Don Pettit

Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

“Everything was rolling along nicely. We could have had factories producing wind blades, and we were on the verge of launching a major wind industry with thousands of jobs in B.C.. But just as it started to get going they dropped it.”

“Wind prospectors were coming into the region from all over the world. We wanted to tap into that and try to make at least one of these wind facilities at least partially locally owned — which we did. And I think we set a very high standard for community-supported wind development.”

Their ground-breaking work led to PEC’s inaugural green energy project, the Bear Mountain Wind Park, being fully commissioned in 2009, even as fracking activity was peaking in the Peace. B.C.’s first large-scale wind park at 102 megawatts, it stands a few kilometres south of Dawson Creek and continues to power the South Peace region.

And then, in 2010, things inexplicably went south.

Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year. A report issued last week by Clean Energy Canada, entitled Missing the Bigger Picture, calculates that the renewable energy sector employed about 300,000 workers in Canada in 2017 and has significantly outcompeted the rest of the economy in growth.

Yet Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

The potential health benefits of a transition to renewable appear similarly impressive. A 2016 Pembina Institute analysis estimated that by phasing out coal-fired power entirely by 2030, 1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits and $5 billion worth of negative health outcomes would be avoided between 2015 and 2035. And unlike the air and water contaminants emitted by coal and natural-gas plants that sicken local populations and warm the planet, Pettit enthuses that solar energy has “no moving parts and no pollution.” in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

“Alberta has a program called community capacity building. It’s about communities wanting to replace some of the power that they’re using with solar, but they can also make them bigger than they need and put extra power into the grid and get paid for it.”

One significant benefit is a locked-in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

When asked what the provincial government could do to promote its spread, he answers without hesitation. Instead of spending billions on Site C to power the fracking industry, which he says would mostly benefit big corporations in the short term, it could offer small, targeted incentives.  MORE

Wildly Underestimated Oilsands Emissions Latest Blow to Alberta’s Dubious Climate Claims

This blows out of the water any notion any idea that the Trudeau government is a ‘climate leader’ responding to the climate emergency in a robust fashion, protecting Canadians and the planet. Neoliberal governments protect corporations and investors’ profits before consideration of the public’s clear wish for robust action on climate change. Write to parliamentarians and voice your anger.

As disaster looms, petro province lets industry call the shots.

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Whether or not the rest of the oil patch has as wretched a record of accuracy remains to be seen, but the missing 17 megatonnes thus far unearthed are enormous — equivalent to the entire carbon output of Toronto or Seattle.’ Photo by jasonwoodhead23, Creative Commons licensed.

Trust us. That has long been the message from the oil sector to the Alberta public, which seems to have little choice in the matter.

In a bizarre arrangement, the Alberta oil patch pays for its own oversight through the Alberta Energy Regulator — a regulatory body 100-per-cent funded by the fossil fuel sector. What could go wrong?

The latest boondoggle was revealed by an Environment Canada study published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications. It showed the methodology that energy companies have used for years to calculate carbon dioxide and methane emissions from oilsands surface mining operations underestimated contributions to global warming by a whopping 64 per cent.

This eye-popping number was the result of airborne sampling over four of the largest bitumen mines in 2013 to test the accuracy of the industry’s self-reporting methods. The company figures are based on “bottom-up” calculations using the measured amount of fuels consumed in their operations. The “top-down” sampling by Environment Canada was based on actual measurements of carbon dioxide levels collected over these projects.

…Similar airborne sampling by Carleton University researchers in 2017 assessed methane leaks from Alberta oil and gas operations and found that overall emissions were “likely at least 25 to 50 per cent greater than current government estimates.”

The oil industry enjoys a special deference from the mainstream media and regulators, so it is not surprising that the Environment Canada findings weren’t extrapolated to the rest of the bitumen industry. MORE

Alberta’s energy regulator ordered to take a new approach to punishing environmental crimes

A recent ruling aims to curtail conflicts of interest and corporate greenwashing via ‘creative sentencing,’ a legal tool used by the courts to offset pollution and other environmental harms

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Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility, located 30 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, where in 2015 31 great blue herons were found in various states of decomposition in a sump pond containing contaminated residual bitumen. Photo: Alex MacLean

There’s been a major breakthrough in creative sentencing for environmental crimes in Alberta, with the Alberta Energy Regulator ordered to use an open-bidding process, rather than hand-selecting beneficiaries.

The creative sentencing mechanism allows judges to order penalties beyond fines when a company is found guilty of illegally polluting the environment. These penalties often include funding reclamation activities, scholarships or research projects.

Recipients of funds via creative sentences are usually selected behind closed doors by legal counsel, in a secretive system.

This was the case in 2010, after Syncrude Canada Ltd. was found guilty in the death of 1,600 ducks that landed on an oilsands tailings pond.

The University of Alberta, the Alberta Conservation Association and Keyano College were all approached privately about the prospect of receiving creative sentencing funds before being awarded $2.45 million in funding as part of Syncrude’s sentence.

But in response to a new ruling the Alberta Energy Regulator will take a different approach to creative sentencing in Syncrude’s latest conviction.

Alberta hikes minimum wage, adds food service jobs for the third straight year


Premier Rachel Notley at Transcend Coffee in Edmonton on Friday, April 15, 2016. Photo from Government of Alberta

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour was a key plank in the Alberta New Democratic Party’s 2015 election platform. At the time, Alberta was tied for the lowest minimum wage in Canada ($10.20 per hour) and had the dubious distinction of having the highest level of income inequality and the largest gender income gap.

“All in all, minimum-wage hikes don’t hurt our economy, they help more working Albertans share in the province’s prosperity.”

With staged, pre-announced annual increases in 2015-2018, the NDP government increased Alberta’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — the highest in the country — as of October 1, 2018. Adjusting for inflation, this is about a 40 per cent increase over a 36-month period.

Any proposal to increase the minimum wage by any amount in any province seems to be met with dire warnings of big job losses and impending economic doom. In Alberta, the government’s actions have generated considerable public debate, some bold predictions, and the proliferation of myths of who makes minimum wage and whether minimum wage hikes correlate with employment effects (i.e. job losses or gains). MORE

Alberta steps up on solar: Cheap, clean and local

Pembina Institute reacts to Alberta’s solar procurement announcement


Photo: Green Sun Rising

CALGARY — Binnu Jeyakumar, Director, Clean Energy at the Pembina Institute, made the following statement in response to the Government of Alberta’s announcement on its procurement of solar power:

“The Pembina Institute welcomes the Government of Alberta’s announcement of the results of the competitive process to procure solar energy for their operations.  This will mean the construction of 94 MWp of solar projects in Southern Alberta, and will almost double the amount of solar power in the province.

“This program takes advantage of the fact that Alberta has some of the best solar resources in the country, which can be taken advantage of concurrently when demand for electricity is high, and can also complement generation from wind facilities. In addition, minimal operating costs mean solar energy can help lower the wholesale price of electricity.

“The government used a competitive contract-for-difference process for this procurement, with an average price of $48.05/MWh, which is comparable to that of natural gas costs.  The long-term contract structure means Albertans will be protected against rising electricity prices. Meanwhile, any additional revenue from these projects is returned to government. MORE

Three New Solar Electricity Facilities in Alberta Contracted At Lower Cost than Natural Gas

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  • the contract price of 4.8 cents/kWh CAD to be paid by Alberta Infrastructure for this solar electricity represents a lower Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) than the average annual wholesale price paid by the power pool to combined-cycle and single-cycle natural gas-fired electricity generation which was 7.1 cents/kWh and 11.2 cents/kWh respectively from 2008 – 2018.
  • Alberta receives more hours of sunshine than Miami, Florida in the summer months. Alberta’s electricity supply is most strained in summer when high temperatures increase the resistance of the distribution and transmission systems, and reduce the efficiency of cooling thermal power plants. For this reason, solar facilities sited near to electricity demand improves overall grid efficiency. Supply shortages are atypical in Alberta in winter when solar energy is least available. When they do occur, imports are increased and large loads are decreased.
  • In 2018, Alberta’s solar electricity generation exceeded 50 MW. While representing much less than 1% of the province’s electricity supply today, the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) forecasts that solar energy could supply as much as 3 per cent of the province’s electricity by 2030. A recent supply chain study of the solar electricity sector in Alberta by Solas Energy Consulting Inc. found a potential of $4.1 billion in market value and a labour force rising to 10,000 in 2030.
To learn more about solar energy and the best way for consumers to go solar, please visit the Canadian Solar Industries Association at www.CanSIA.ca.

Oil and gas companies owe Albertans $20 million in unpaid land rents

Payments to landowners made by government on behalf of delinquent companies up 840 per cent since 2010

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When oil and gas companies drill wells on private property, they enter into a contract with landowners to pay an annual fee — rent for the land.

However, when companies don’t pay, landowners can apply to a government tribunal — called the Surface Rights Board — that steps in and pays the rent using taxpayer money. The government is supposed to recoup that money from the companies, so taxpayers aren’t footing the bill.

“If people are worried about 3,000 [current orphan wells] then they won’t know what hit them with 80,000 coming.”

“The vast majority of operators [whose rents are being paid by taxpayers] are in bankruptcy proceedings, receivership or insolvent,” Mike Hartfield, spokesperson for the Surface Rights Board, told The Narwhal.

The Narwhal reported in January that Alberta recouped less than two per cent of all money paid on behalf of delinquent oil and gas companies in 2017 . MORE

Bankrupt energy companies await key Supreme Court ruling on old oil wells

The decision could have implications for banks, apart from junior and intermediate oil producers’ access to capital

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Pumpjacks, like this one near Calgary, are used to pump crude oil out of the ground after a well has been drilled. Thousands of oil wells have been abandoned across Alberta without proper remediation. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Trustees for bankrupt energy companies will learn Thursday whether they can refuse to pay clean up costs for old and inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta.

The Supreme Court of Canada is set to rule on whether the trustee for bankrupt Redwater Energy Corp. can hand over the remediation responsibilities for old and inactive oil and gas wells to Alberta’s Orphan Well Association — while still keeping its more valuable wells and facilities, which can be sold to repay the company’s debt.

The case has been closely watched in the Calgary oilpatch and will have major implications across the country’s resource sectors as the Supreme Court will determine whether debt holders have a higher priority over environmental clean-up responsibilities in bankruptcy cases. MORE

RELATED:

Albertans may face $8B bill for orphan wells unless rules change, lawyer says

 

Alberta Has Spent $23 Million Calling BC an Enemy of Canada

Tyee FOI reveals pro-pipeline PR strategy, spiraling costs.

so_close.pngImage of a full page ad paid for by Albertans as part of a national campaign with the underlying theme: ‘This is not B.C. vs. Alberta, this is B.C. vs. Canada.’ The ad copy accuses, in bold face type, that the B.C. government’s “disregard for the rule of law puts our national economy in danger” and urges British Columbians accept the Transmountain expansion to “bring this country back together.” Source: KeepCanadaWorking website.

The Alberta government has spent more than $23 million — twice as much as previously revealed — in a campaign designed to turn the rest of Canada against B.C., The Tyee has learned.

The “KeepCanadaWorking” ad and PR campaign’s top “principle” states, “This is not B.C. vs. Alberta, this is B.C. vs. Canada,” according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.

Having pegged their effort on driving a wedge between one province and the rest of the country, the CPE team lists two more principles: “It’s senseless to pit the environment against the economy,” and, “This is a good thing.”

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Slide from an Alberta government internal presentation on how messages would be framed for its $23 million campaign in support of expanding an oilsands pipeline to B.C., obtained by The Tyee via a Freedom of Information request.

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