Above Photo: Alberta Premier Danielle Smith paused approvals of new renewable energy projects last week. Chris Schwarz/Flickr CC.
‘We’re one of the organizations that has contributed,’ anti-wind organizer tells DeSmog.
When the Alberta government announced in early August a six-month pause on new renewable energy projects, it caused immediate chaos within the sector, plunging into uncertainty 100 developments awaiting approval and investments worth $25 billion. Industry leaders say they weren’t warned or consulted.
“It was a done deal before we had a chance to convince the minister that the industry doesn’t need a moratorium,” Vittoria Bellissimo, president and CEO of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA), said in reaction. “I think it was a mistake,” she told CBC.
It was a perplexing move for a United Conservative Party government whose Premier Danielle Smith has made attracting new workers to the province a top priority. Given that the renewables industry has created thousands of Alberta jobs in recent years, “It’s hard to see how this [pause] is anything but counterproductive as an economic strategy,” argued Calgary Herald columnist Rob Breakenridge.
But amid the financial pandemonium, one anti-wind and solar group in the province is jubilant — and also claiming partial credit for the decision. “We’re one of the organizations that has contributed to calling for this six-month moratorium on approvals,” Mark Mallett, a founder of the Elk Point-based advocacy group Wind Concerns, told DeSmog.
The Alberta premier’s office didn’t respond to questions about the pause.
Those who track the growing backlash against renewables see what’s happening in Alberta as the latest victory for an international movement aiming to halt the shift away from fossil fuels. “The spread of false and misleading information about wind and solar energy is now one of the leading threats to the clean energy transition,” David Pomerantz, executive director of the U.S.-based research and advocacy group Energy and Policy Institute, told DeSmog.
Mallett of Wind Concerns is a former CTV News Edmonton journalist turned Catholic singer, evangelist and author. He sees the renewables moratorium announced by Premier Smith’s government as welcome pushback against the so-called “climate propaganda” put out by environmentalists and scientists. Wind Concerns cites on its website the CO2 Coalition, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Heartland Institute and other groups that have spent years, at times with the funding of oil and gas companies and rightwing billionaires, attempting to discredit and undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.
“Carbon dioxide is the gas of life,” Mallett said in a phone interview. “More carbon dioxide on the planet, makes for a warmer planet, makes for better [food] growing conditions.” Climate scientists say that is a misleading argument because it ignores the massive negative effects on plants and natural ecosystems due to climate change, including intensified droughts, wildfires and heatwaves.
Wind Concerns is part of an escalating movement across Canada and the U.S. to block the installation of cleaner energy alternatives to coal, gas and oil. That includes the organization Wind Concerns Ontario, which is credited with having “successfully halted all offshore wind development until further notice, and its members have won 80 motions of moratorium from municipal councils that represent a combined two million Ontarians.”
It also includes dozens of American anti-wind and solar groups, some of which are linked to Republican operatives and think tanks that receive funding from coal-burning electric utilities. “These groups are preying on rural communities, robbing them of massive economic opportunities to advance their own private agendas,” Pomerantz said.
Mallett, for his part, says Wind Concerns has no affiliation with oil and gas companies and is self-funded by rural Albertans like him. “We’re not in any way legally or officially related to any other organization,” he said. But Mallett says he’s been watching anti-renewables battles in other jurisdictions and learning from other activists: “We’ve been in touch with several in Alberta, we’ve talked to other people in Ontario and elsewhere.”
The Alberta government says its decision to pause all approvals of wind and solar projects came at the request of the Alberta Utilities Commission, an independent provincial agency tasked with signing off on new electricity generation. It was inspired by “concerns raised from municipalities and landowners related to responsible land use and the rapid pace of renewables development,” according to a government news release.
Some of those concerns have to do with local communities worrying about turbines and panels occupying prime agricultural land. That’s what caused Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, and reportedly a renewable energy enthusiast, to call for a slowdown of certain projects earlier this year.
“I know some Alberta landowners have genuine issues with wind farms,” Drew Yewchuk, a former staff lawyer with the University of Calgary’s Public Interest Law Clinic, told DeSmog. “But also that there are these sort of [anti-renewable energy] groups involved.”
Wind Concerns, which in addition to professing worries for the impacts of renewables on wildlife, local properties and human health, sees itself as opposing a “climate industrial complex.” Earlier this year, Mallett and several dozen supporters showed up for battle during an open house for a new wind project near his home of Elk Point.
“We are not here to destroy the meeting. We appreciate that you are here and listening to us. Our concern has to do with property values and health issues. We are not here with pitchforks and torches, we are here with concerns,” Mallett said at the event.
A Wind Concerns video of exchanges between activists and company representatives has since been viewed more than 1,600 times. “I know this video was watched by politicians in this province,” he said. “Did it have an impact on the call for this moratorium? I don’t know. I think it’s the collective voice of people from across this province.”
A week or so after the open house, Wind Concerns called on its website for “an immediate moratorium” on renewables projects. Premier Smith, the group argued in that post, should reject the “apocalyptic fear-mongering” of climate scientists and environmentalists. Just days later, the provincial government announced its pause.
Wind Concerns was thrilled: “Alberta voters are finally being heard.”