A new Leger poll, released yesterday, confirms that a majority of Albertans do not support the provincial government’s ill-conceived seven-month ban on new renewable energy projects. Premier Danielle Smith would be wise to pay attention to this data and other recent public opinion research on what Albertans think about the clean economy.
The Leger poll, conducted Aug. 25-27, found 65 per cent of Albertans oppose the renewables moratorium. Majority opposition was found in rural areas (57 per cent), suburban areas (66 per cent) and urban areas (68 per cent). Those opposed were across all age groups and income levels. In other words, in Alberta, whether you are younger or older, wealthy or not, live in the country or a city, chances are you (or your neighbour) do not support the ban on new renewable energy projects.
Premier Smith seems to have been caught off guard by the swift and extensive backlash against the renewables ban. Her surprise was evident in her changing rationale for the ban, from claiming rural landowners requested it (they denied doing so) to blaming letters from the utilities (the letters do not mention a moratorium).
If the Premier gambled that Albertans would stand behind the ban, a look at recent public opinion research in Alberta should have given her pause. A 2022 Abacus poll found 83 per cent of Albertans say the clean energy sector plays an important role in the provincial economy. And nearly half of Albertans (46 per cent) believe the province is not doing enough to move towards a clean economy. The same year, Alberta pollster Janet Brown found that 90 per cent of Albertans agree diversifying Alberta’s economy should be a goal while 82 per cent think getting away from boom-bust cycles should be an objective.
Albertans know all too well the financial and emotional stress that comes from an economy tied to volatile oil prices. We’ve witnessed countless rounds of layoffs and the upheaval that creates for Alberta families. Anyone who has lived in Alberta for more than three years can tell you that as high as oil prices rise, they also fall. It’s not surprising that Brown also found less than half (43 per cent) of the Alberta public say they would encourage young people today to pursue a career in the oil and gas industry.
And it’s not just economics driving a positive view of the clean economy in Alberta. Earlier this month another Leger poll found seven in 10 Albertans are personally concerned about climate change. Albertans may be active in the oilpatch, but the data shows we are also concerned about the climate, we support diversifying our economy, we want the government to do more about clean energy and we oppose a ban on new renewable energy projects.
But all too often progressive voices in Alberta are simply drowned out by louder ones – by the well-funded oil and gas lobbyists and their political champions. But as the data shows, these loud voices don’t reflect what a majority of Albertans actually quietly believe.
At the Calgary Climate Hub, we work directly with a broad range of Albertans devoted to climate action. Our volunteer-driven organization helps Albertans work to diversify our economy and create opportunities for today and in the future.
If Premier Smith ignores that the majority of Albertans oppose the renewables ban, at the very least she should heed the outpouring of criticism from local municipalities, energy workers, CEOs and even the C.D. Howe Institute – that the ban interferes with the market, and has thrown a once-thriving sector into uncertainty. The Pembina Institute estimates that over 100 energy projects worth $33 billion are now at risk, along with 24,000 jobs.
It’s always possible to introduce better policies for a sector. The oil and gas sector is currently tackling methane reductions. But it’s striking that Alberta’s oil and gas sector was not ordered to a standstill, instead, there is an acknowledgement that the sector can – and did – improve while operating. The renewables sector deserves the same respect. If the Alberta government is truly concerned about the impact of local energy projects on communities, it also needs to address the devastating impacts of oilsands projects on Indigenous communities downstream. Rural landowners deserve to know what will happen at the end of life of a wind turbine or solar panel. It should be noted these projects do not have the same levels of air, land and water pollution associated with them as oil and gas projects.
It’s time for Premier Smith to reverse course and cancel the renewables ban. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s not too late to fix this one.
Angela McIntyre is the director of the Calgary Climate Hub.