DeSmog

Anti-Renewable Group Says It Met Privately with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith

Wind Concerns founder has called CO2 the ‘gas of life’ and praised the province’s ban on new wind and solar projects.
Geoff Dembicki
Geoff Dembicki
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is set to lift a pause on renewable projects Thursday. Credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEEDCC)

With Alberta Premier Danielle Smith set to lift the province’s seven-month moratorium on renewable energy projects this week, wind and solar developers are urging the provincial government to refrain from introducing “punitive” and “arbitrary” regulations that impede the industry’s growth.

Smith nevertheless introduced sweeping new rules on Wednesday, including a minimum buffer zone of 35 km around protected areas or pristine views. She framed the regulations as good for wind and solar, saying “We must grow our renewable energy industry in well-defined and responsible ways.”*

But Smith has recently met in private with an Alberta organization called Wind Concerns that’s called wind development “grotesque” and claims that the mainstream scientific consensus on global temperature rise is “ridden with fraudulent data and outright lies.”

That’s according to Mark Mallett, founder of the group, who told DeSmog that he had a face-to-face meeting with the premier in late January alongside Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA Scott Cyr. “We spent about a half an hour with her,” he said. “And we were able to lay out the various arguments against industrial wind.”

Mallett, who previously told DeSmog that carbon dioxide is “the gas of life,” describes wind energy as a mass killer of birds, bats and insects and disputes whether human-caused global temperature rise is happening. “It’s time to reject the absurd and baseless climate change narrative and return to common sense,” Wind Concerns argues on its website.

Mallett insisted in a phone interview that “we’re not funded by the oil industry or anything like that.” But his group has a clear preference for which electricity sources should power the province. “Alberta has an abundance of natural gas,” it argued on its website this month. “It can be burned cleanly.” 

Wind Concerns is part of a growing backlash to renewables occurring across North America. Such groups, some with the backing of conservative power brokers with ties to the oil and gas industry, have in the U.S. succeeded in helping slow down the Biden Administration’s aggressive roll-out of wind and solar.     

Wind Concerns previously praised Alberta’s moratorium but says it wasn’t directly involved with the decision. After Smith announced the pause last summer, the industry has been thrown into disarray. More than 100 renewables projects worth an estimated $33 billion were halted. 

“There’s a certain craziness in all of this,” Don Pettit, executive director of the Peace Energy Cooperative, which was proposing a solar farm in the Peace River region, told CBC this month. “We’re ready to launch as soon as the moratorium is lifted. But this delay and uncertainty have really been devastating.”

During Smith’s meeting with Mallett, the premier explained “that her government is moving to force so-called ‘green’ corporations to provide a bond upfront for reclamation costs,” according to a post on Wind Concerns’ website. The Premier’s Office didn’t respond to a media request from DeSmog with specific questions about this claim and whether the meeting took place as described. 

Cyr, an MLA with Smith’s United Conservative Party, last November submitted a letter to the Alberta Utilities Commission, which he shared with Wind Concerns, calling for “a policy requiring green energy projects to submit comprehensive reclamation plans, akin to those required for oil and gas initiatives.” DeSmog reached out to Cyr about the meeting described by Wind Concerns but didn’t receive a response.

Energy experts point out that reclamation challenges from wind projects pale in comparison to the vast environmental impact of oil and gas. Cleaning up and remediating inactive drilling wells could cost upwards of $60 billion, according to estimates from Alberta’s auditor general. And despite that huge financial liability, the province has never paused oil and gas development or imposed onerous clean-up regulations. It continues to approve new projects. 

Asked about Smith potentially moving to make renewables companies pay more upfront for remediation costs, Mallett told DeSmog that “we’re totally supportive of the idea.” But his organization wants Smith to go much further. It advocates on its site for “ending the scam of further industrial wind development” altogether. 

Mallett saw encouraging signs that Smith is receptive to his message. “She was being educated on certain things we were saying to her and on other things she nodded in agreement suggesting she was well aware of what we were telling her,” he said.  

Updated 02/28/2024: This story has been updated following Premier Danielle Smith’s latest renewables announcement.

Geoff Dembicki
Geoff Dembicki is an investigative climate journalist based in New York City. He is author of The Petroleum Papers and Are We Screwed?

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