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Invest Alberta

Hypocrisy, Hyperbole, and a Handful of Half-Truths: Alberta’s Marketing of Green Energy at COP28

The moratorium on new solar and wind projects in Alberta raises questions about the sincerity of the government’s 'Invest Alberta' green energy message to COP28

Just before arriving at the COP 28 conference in Dubai, Danielle Smith released her “Invest Alberta” video with this message:

“Alberta is an innovation hub, attracting sustainable investments with low operating costs and a skilled workforce. We are leading in clean energy technology, with hydrogen production and waste-to-energy, while being committed to a carbon-neutral economy. Those are just some of the reasons why the world should invest right here in Alberta.”

It all sounds great… but the six-plus minute promotional video outlining all the clean energy innovations, promises, and pristine landscapes that Alberta offers has many people shaking their fists at the hypocrisy of the message.

Green Washing Clean Energy?

In the promo video, Rick Christiaanse, CEO of Invest Alberta, says, “For the last couple of years, we have been focused on green energy.”

Critics quickly point out that the Alberta Government’s track record is more about support and lobbying for the oil and gas sector than about support for clean energy.

A case in point is the government’s 7-month moratorium on approving any new solar or wind projects in the province for reasons that changed as often as the direction of the wind. 

Is the moratorium about getting backup natural gas plants in the cue? About preventing the loss of arable farmland? About protecting Albertans from clean-up fees from abandoned renewable projects? Or about something else?

Whatever the real reason among the many changing government rationales, it’s clear that the moratorium was abruptly imposed without any industry consultation and left many renewable projects high and dry. Despite the fancy promo video, many investors question the wisdom of locating renewable operations in Alberta.

We doubt Smith would ever impose a moratorium of any kind on oil and gas without consultation. 

Meanwhile, back to the video, Christiaanse proudly points out that Alberta is home to the largest solar facility in North America, owned by Axium Infrastucture with Amazon purchasing the power produced from the facility.

Luckily, that solar project was approved before the moratorium, or it would have sat idle, losing money for seven months.

Amazon is working hard to be net zero by 2025, which Premier Smith continually says isn’t possible for Alberta until 2050. So, industry can lead the way while Alberta makes excuses.

Christiaanse also says, “We continue to build out a lot of wind energy projects as well,” but wait a minute… because of the moratorium, little is being built right now.

The Travers solar facility is trotted out everytime the Alberta government wants to showcase its clean energy potential. Owned by Axium Infrastructure with Amazon purchasing the power produced, the Alberta government approved the project in 2020.
The Travers solar facility is trotted out everytime the Alberta government wants to showcase its clean energy potential. Owned by Axium Infrastructure with Amazon purchasing the power produced, the Alberta government approved the project in 2020.

Can-Do Alberta

For her part, Premier Smith tells us that Alberta has a great can-do attitude.

Smith argueing with the audience at the Pembina Climate Summit in October | Susan on the Soapbox

“Because we’ve got a can-do attitude, where we want to have entrepreneurship, we want to have innovation, that allows us to attract a lot of people here who just want to try new things,” she says in the promo video.

OK. Good, but….

Back In October at the Pembina Climate Summit, Smith faced a knowledgeable audience of industry experts keen on exploring solutions for Alberta’s clean energy future.

At the summit, she was argumentative and confrontational; she dismissed alternative renewable energy solutions despite the expertise present in the room.

The summit’s host, Dave Kelly, reminded the Premier of Alberta’s can-do attitude. 

This spirit, he argued, could drive innovations in the sector, a point Smith seemed to overlook when she stood by her assessment of 2050 as a more realistic goal for ‘clean’ energy.

Rather than add to the dialogue about solutions, she stridently lectured the crowd about how they were wrong.

So much for can-do.

Is Carbon Capture and Storage the Salvation for Alberta?

In the promo video, two ‘clean energy’ projects were highlighted, with representatives from the companies involved explaining how the clean energy solutions make Alberta innovative.

The first was Rachel Smith from Air Products, “building a net-zero hydrogen energy complex right here in Edmonton,” and next was Sean Collins of Varme Energy, who builds power plants that combust garbage to create electricity.

These sound great, but they rely on extensive carbon capture and underground storage (CCUS) to get to net zero. 

The verdict is still out if CCUS will work. Big questions remain about whether underground storage is safe (doesn’t leak)  and if the claimed emission reduction in the real world is as good as proposed.

For example, the New York Times recently ran a feature article that said,” “a recent study found that after taking into account the energy used to capture and isolate CO2 from flue gas at a fossil fuel-burning industrial plant, the carbon capture system would reduce the plant’s net emissions by only 10 to 11 percent, not the estimated 80 to 90 percent cited by proponents.”

But for Alberta, a net-zero future relies on CCUS.

A consortium of mostly foreign-owned companies hopes to turn the oil sands to net zero through the magic of CCUS. 

The Alberta government has invested nearly 1.8 billion and hopes to get billions of dollars more from the Feds for CCUS projects. 

Why not invest that money in proven clean renewables instead of “maybe, might work” technologies?

At the same time as requesting federal money for CCUS, the Alberta government encourages citizens from across the county to “Tell the Feds” that clean electricity is not possible until 2050.

Selective Snapshot!

Smith wants new industry investors. As the promo video says:

“Anyone who is interested in making an investment in our province, I am keenly interested in clearing away any barriers to make sure that this is an easy place to invest in.”

Many of the 'pristine' views of Alberta presented in the Invest Alberta video were from prtected federal national parks like this one from Banff National Park | Invest Alberta
Many of the ‘pristine’ views of Alberta presented in the Invest Alberta video were from protected federal national parks like this one from Banff National Park | Invest Alberta

That is one statement from the Premier that is true.

For example, Albertans from all walks of life fought hard against new coal mine approvals in 2021. 

They got an order from Alberta’s Energy Minister in 2022 that “no new applications” for coal exploration should be accepted.

A win for the people!

But a short-lived one.  

Because now the Smith government has found loopholes to allow a billionaire-owned Australian mining company to start exploratory drilling in the region Albertans were trying to protect.

Albertans’ wants and needs seem secondary to an open arms policy to foreign-owned resource extraction companies who “will pay the lowest rate of corporate taxes,” according to Smith in the promotional video.

All of this is ironic in the face of a video that spends much of its time showing pristine views of mountain landscapes and clean running rivers – but most of the footage is from protected federal mountain national parks

We guess that footage from only partially protected Kananaskis isn’t appropriate for ‘pristine’ viewscapes since the swatches of clear-cuts might mar the pristine message.

Speaking of omissions of convenience, there were no photos of pristine prairies, pretty parkland or expanses of boreal forest in the promo video.

This oversight is likely because the first two are threatened ecosystems, and the last is clearcut or criss-crossed with natural gas exploration roads. Again, this is not good messaging for the clean, pristine Alberta landscapes.

So, Smith and her 100 industry delegates are working hard at COP28 to get people to invest in clean energy in Alberta. We’ll see what business she can drum up.

There may be takers for new coal mines and carbon capture schemes funded by the government. 

Still, lately, back home in Alberta, Smith’s central message has been to leave your ‘unreliable and dirty’ solar wind and solar projects behind.

A response to the Invest Alberta promo video on X.

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