CALGARY — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told delegates at a climate conference in Calgary on Thursday that achieving an electricity grid that depends on renewable power by 2035 is "fantasy thinking."
Smith has said that achieving that target in 12 years could lead to power blackouts because Alberta wouldn't have a reliable source of baseload power, such as natural gas.
Her government has argued for a net-zero grid by 2050.
"Does anyone think it would be possible to get all of the siting decisions, the regulatory, First Nations, the different levels of landowner consultation, the environmental issues — does anyone think that would be possible to get that built in 12 years, starting now?" she asked those in attendance at the 2023 Climate Summit in Calgary.
"Yes," responded many people in the audience, which included clean energy experts from industry, government and universities, as well as Indigenous and rural communities.
Smith then asked those in attendance what they knew that her "industry experts" don't know and questioned what Alberta would do when there is no sun and no wind. Someone in the audience yelled out: "Batteries."
"Let's talk about batteries for a minute, because I know everybody thinks this economy is going to be operated on wind and solar and battery power, and it cannot," said Smith.
"We need legitimate, real solutions that rely on baseload power rather than fantasy thinking."
A spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada said in an email that the overall federal net-zero target is 2050, just like Alberta.
"In fact, there is a major new gas plant that came online which could run until 2043 under the clean electricity regulations," wrote Kaitlin Power, referring to the 2035 energy grid target.
"The draft regulations are designed with at least 12 years before they come into effect, giving time to attract investment and adjust decision-making.
"Because of the flexibilities we’ve built in, there is no cliff for natural gas plants. In their current draft form, regulations would permit 73 existing natural gas plants to continue operating in Alberta in some capacity beyond 2035, representing over half of baseload capacity."
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she worries about Smith's message to Albertans.
"When it comes to fantasy thinking, I think that with the premier, that horse has left the barn," she told reporters after Smith's speech.
Notley said the premier's "repeated failure to be upfront" affects investor certainty and the economy in the province.
"I believe that with science, that with concerted effort, with sound public policy, we can do whatever we set ourselves out to do in Alberta. We have a history of that and we can do it going forward," said Notley.
"We can't do it by sticking our head in the sand, coming up with half truths and misinformation and walking away from our role as leaders and that's exactly what she's advocating."
Smith's comments at the Calgary climate conference came a day after she called one of the world's premier energy research institutions "no longer credible."
The International Energy Agency recently released a report saying fossil fuel demand is likely to peak this decade.
Smith said the agency no longer does analysis, points to outcomes it wants and outlines paths to get there.
She said she prefers to get her information from private-sector analysts.
The International Energy Agency has 31 member countries and works with groups such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the G20 and the United Nations in researching its reports, which make headlines around the world.
Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said it's remarkable to watch the premier side with OPEC rather than the International Energy Agency or climate scientists.
"She may not like what the data is telling us on oil demand or climate change, but that doesn't make it any less true," he said in an email.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 26, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Alberta Premier Danielle Smith made remarks about the International Energy Agency being "no longer credible" at a climate change conference in Calgary.