At a Climate Summit” organized by the Pembina Institute, a “think-tank” determined to end Alberta’s dependency on oil, Premier Danielle Smith did not hesitate to enter the foray. “You couldn’t have dragged your predecessor here in his pickup truck,” joked the moderator, curious as to why she would take the invitation among a group obviously cool to Alberta’s relationship with oil and gas.
But Smith quickly set the tone noting that her public policy career began in environmental research.
The moderator’s questions were centred around what the province was committed to doing in the short term to reduce carbon emissions. Smith stated that “net zero” was possible by 2050, particularly by employing hydrogen, nuclear, geothermal, solar, and other renewable innovations. At the same time, she noted that politicians have a “four-year time frame” and so “want to accelerate decision making and stand at podiums and have election wins, whether or not it’s practical or realistic.” In other words, she was not about to be pressured into making promises that could not be kept — such as Trudeau’s demand that “net zero” be reached by 2035.1
On Wind Turbines
When it came to discussing industrial wind turbines, however, Smith’s enthusiasm quickly waned. She began by pointing out that, in the last year, Alberta has had eight Level 3 alerts on the power grid,2 “which means it was near failure,” she said. “To have 8 in a year means that we have instability in our grid. And part of the reason that we have instability in our grid is that we don’t have enough reliable baseload power.”
Smith notes that wind and solar, in particular, are not reliable.
She goes further pointing out how wind turbines have interfered with an airport, with the spraying operations of farmers, and how prime agricultural land is being covered over with solar panels.
Where do we site wind and solar so it doesn’t end up impairing other people’s property rights?Premier Daniel Smith, Alberta Climate Summit, Calgary, Alberta, October 26, 2023; youtube.com
Smith also raises the question of end-of-life reclamation of wind turbines, recalling the historic problem of “orphaned” oil and gas wells, and her desire not to repeat that ongoing disaster.
It’s like 850 cubic meters of cement [in the ground and] a tower the size of the Calgary tower; blades that have to be taken away and buried. It’s at least a minimum of a million dollars for reclamation for each one of those sites. Some of these farms have 50 turbines. So, is anyone putting aside 50 million dollars to make sure that the landowner isn’t stuck with that cost? Those are the things that I am worried about. I don’t want somebody 20 years from now saying, “Didn’t you guys learn from oil and gas? Why did you allow the same thing to happen here?” So, we have to have consistent policy.Ibid.
To that end, Smith told CBC News that the province won’t be allowing solar and wind to develop on “prime agricultural lands or on lands that are going to interfere with our beautiful viewscapes of the mountains. Those are valuable for tourism and we have to make sure that we maintain that value as well.”3 Such projects, she said, will be restricted to “marginal” lands.
At the Climate Summit, Smith also turned her attention to environmental impacts.
We are going to look at ways in which we can ensure that when we’re putting wind turbines up, that we are protecting the Hoary bat and migratory birds. And we have to make sure that we’re not putting them in the pathway, because we’ve got huge migratory pathways going down there.4 We have to make sure that we’re not using up prime agricultural land or interfering with neighbour’s property rights. And we have to make sure that there is a plan in place for how we incentivize these projects to hook onto existing electrical grid infrastructure so that we’re not having to build millions of dollars of new transmission lines. And we have to make sure that there’s going to be some logical way of setting money aside so that at the end-of-life, there’s money set aside in order to reclaim.Alberta Climate Summit, Calgary, Alberta, October 26, 2023; youtube.com
But is Wind a Good Idea at All?
In 2019, after a mass expansion of wind turbines across Ontario’s landscape, Premier Doug Ford declared a moratorium on wind development. Electricity prices had soared; property values plummeted; and thousands of residents complained of serious health problems for themselves and their animals — problems that continue to this day.5 Ford bluntly stated:
I’m proud that we actually saved the taxpayers $790 million when we cancelled those terrible, terrible, terrible wind turbines that really, for the last 15 years, have destroyed our energy file… if we had the chance to get rid of all the windmills, we would.Premier Doug Ford, CBC News, November 21, 2019
While Premier Smith appears to acknowledge in one way or another most of the nightmares Ontario has already gone through, she has not indicated that a moratorium on wind is in the works. Why the province of Alberta would not simply learn from the disaster that wind has become around the globe for not only Ontario but the U.K., Germany, and offshore, is a fair question. There are clearly safer, less intrusive, economically wiser green alternatives. That said, it appears that the days of Big Wind setting up industrial wind farms wherever they please in the province are coming to an end.
The question is whether homeowners and farmers who don’t live in pristine landscapes or on prime farmland will have their property rights and health protected too. Anything short of a moratorium at this point — save for the remotest areas — will likely not put those Albertans who have industrial wind projects slated beside their properties at ease anytime soon. At the same time, it appears that the Premier is getting the message that wind turbines are an environmental and economic disaster.
- cf. Trudeau’s Green War On the West
- She says one every year or two is generally the norm.
- youtube.com, October 31, 2023
- eg. here
- cf. Ontarian’s Turbine Nightmare Continues
Mark Mallett is a former award-winning reporter with CTV Edmonton and an independent researcher and author. His family homesteaded between Vermilion and Cold Lake, Alberta, and now resides in the Lakeland region. Mark is Editor in Chief of Wind Concerns.