Smith’s panel on Alberta’s energy future is a bad joke

“A new advisory panel will develop a long-term vision for Alberta’s energy future and recommend steps the province should take to ensure the industry [emphasis added] continues to thrive for decades to come.”

Premier Danielle Smith appointed an advisory panel Thursday to draft a long-term plan for Albert’s energy future. All five panel members are oil and gas veterans. Chair Dave Yager is a prolific op-ed scribbling shill for the industry. Is it April 1? Because this announcement is a very lame joke on Albertans.

“We all know the world needs long-term energy solutions that are responsible, reliable and affordable,” Smith said in the release. “Now is the perfect time to create a panel of experts to look ahead to the future of our energy sector and how we can meet global energy needs in the years ahead.”

Were there no Albertans available with expertise in renewables, energy storage, hydrogen, geo-thermal, advanced materials manufacturing, critical minerals and battery metals refining, lithium extraction, or, and this is really important, the global energy transition that has rapidly accelerated since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago?

The press release’s slip – “to ensure the industry continues to thrive” – makes it clear that in Smith’s eyes, energy equals oil and gas, full stop.

I’ve argued many times that Alberta needs an energy strategy. And oil and gas should play a big role in that strategy. But picking all five members – one of them a director of the Calgary Petroleum Club, for heaven’s sake – from oil and gas is a huge tell that the panel’s report is already written and sitting in the desk of Energy Minister Peter Guthrie. Giving the panel only four months (deadline is June 30) to produce the report is a dead give away.

Ironically, I’m the only person who has actually written a long-term plan for Alberta’s energy future

Last spring, the Alberta Federation of Labour contracted me to be the lead writer for “Skate to Where the Puck is Going.” The report sets out the global context – an accelerating energy transition that has triggered a modern gold rush to build clean energy industry and supply chains as fast as possible – then describes seven “missions” and seven policies for implementing those missions.

Mission #1: because Alberta’s hydrocarbons are potentially much more valuable for making goods than for burning in engines, by 2050, transition oil and gas from producing feedstock for fuels (gasoline, diesel, etc.) to feedstock for advanced material manufacturing (e.g. carbon fibre). Mission #2: preserve as many oil and gas jobs as possible. Simply put, we argued for creating new Alberta-based markets for domestic oil and gas that would grow as global markets declined.

Another bit of irony is that the AFL plan is almost certainly more pro-oil and gas than anything the panel is likely to come up with. I say that because all reputable energy forecasters see oil demand peaking around 2030 and declining significantly by mid-century. But creating new non-combustion markets could extend Alberta oil and gas production well into the 22nd century. Perpetuating the status quo will lead to failure long before then.

The AFL plan’s other missions included a significant build out of the electricity sector, accelerating growth of the nascent hydrogen and sustainable fuels economy, moving quickly to take advantage of opportunities for critical minerals mining and battery metals refining, creating thousands of jobs retrofitting residential and commercial buildings for net-zero, and building a northern economic corridor to transport new Alberta products to market.

A conservative estimate is that the report’s strategy would create 200,000 new direct jobs while preserving approximately 100,000 existing jobs (currently there are 122,000 oil and gas workers in the province) in the Alberta oil patch. We felt strongly that by following our plan, Alberta could employ more workers and be more prosperous than ever before.

The AFL plan took five months of 70 to 80 hours per week to write. The likelihood that the advisory panel will submit a well-researched, thoughtful, evidence-based plan in four months is nil. If panel members had expertise in the energy transition or renewables or anything other than oil and gas, maybe the outcome would be different. But they do not.

What’s really going on?

The UCP oil and gas narrative – remember “Jobs, Pipelines, the Economy!” – destroyed the NDP during the 2019 election campaign, even though the NDP had an excellent energy policy record. As I argued in this column, Rachel Notley simply doesn’t “talk energy” very well. The NDP leader is more comfortable with social issues like education and healthcare. Consequently, she’s vulnerable this election to the same strategy Jason Kenney used last time.

No surprise, Smith has been ratcheting up the inflammatory oil and gas rhetoric of late. Her strategy is simple: blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for trying to “kill” Alberta’s energy industry, then tie Notley to Trudeau. Thanks to the federal NDP’s agreement propping up the Liberal minority government, Jagmeet Singh is roped into an unholy trinity that makes for a great political villain in Alberta.

On Jan. 26, Smith wrote a letter to Trudeau outlining her beefs with the federal government that Alberta media inexplicably viewed as a conciliatory gesture. The Premier must have been guffawing up her sleeve that local scribes took the bait. Her gambit can be summed up as, “Let’s work together, Prime Minister, but only if you first agree to all my demands, chief among them that your government promote a massive expansion of Alberta oil and gas coupled with the construction of all the infrastructure needed to boost exports to Europe and Asia, including pipelines and more LNG plants.”

The Prime Minister met with her on Feb. 7 and politely committed to nothing. Always dogged, a few hours before announcing the advisory panel, Smith released yet another letter to Trudeau. It is replete with many of the same demands, the same hectoring tone, and the same moralizing about the virtues of Alberta’s oil and gas.

This is political theatre, folks, and the play is a farce.


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