Premiers turn to renewable energy as Alberta’s power grid strained by cold

Some Prairie politicians are criticizing Ottawa for its green energy plans amid bone-chilling low temperatures, claiming on social media that power grid alerts in Alberta show renewables can’t be relied on when temperatures drop.

“Right now, wind generates almost no power. When renewables are unreliable, as they are now, natural gas plants must increase capacity to keep Albertans safe,” the premier posted Friday Alberta’s Danielle Smith on social media, shortly after the province’s grid operator issued a call for consumers to conserve electricity to protect the system.

A day later, following a second grid alert warning of possible rotating blackouts, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe posted that the surplus power he was sending to Alberta came from natural gas and coal-fired power plants.

“Those the Trudeau government is telling us to shut down (which we won’t do),” Moe said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The Alberta Electrical Systems Operator said no blackouts were required following an emergency alert that was sent to people’s phones shortly before 7 p.m., noting that Albertans responded immediately.

At the time, temperatures in much of the province were approaching -40 C.

Randy Boissonnault, Alberta’s only federal cabinet minister and one of the province’s only two Liberal MPs, called the premiers’ remarks “a mean-spirited, disingenuous and partisan attack.” He partly blamed the problem on “decades of underinvestment in the electric grid.”

“Instead of tweeting nonsense about Canada’s plans to address climate change, perhaps the premiers can focus on the current emergency and then work with the federal government to address climate change,” the Edmonton MP wrote in an email. electronic.

Alberta’s grid operator has partially attributed the crisis to two natural gas generators that were not operating, as well as a lack of renewable energy production due to low winds and a lack of natural light at this time of year.

Premiers criticize green energy plans as cold weather puts pressure on Alberta’s power grid. #ABPoli #ColdClimate #Climate Change #Electric Grid #Renewables

Smith has threatened to use the province’s Sovereignty Act to challenge the federal government’s clean electricity regulations during the Liberal’s deadline to achieve a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, calling the goal “unattainable.”

Michelle Rempel Garner, a Conservative MP from Calgary, posted on her blog that if the power system is already buckling under pressure, it probably won’t be able to handle “additional extreme demand created by Liberal regulations.”

But a spokesperson for Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s office said the federal government has always said that “reliability, along with affordability, is one of the driving forces behind how regulations will be designed.”

“The regulations would never put the province in a situation where they did not have a reliable base load, and that is why we are making provisions so that plants that burn fossil fuels can operate without carbon capture technologies during peak use or in emergency situations.” read an emailed statement.

“To say we want to ‘close plants’ is simply not the case.”

Andrew Leach, an energy economist at the University of Alberta, said Smith and Moe appear to be framing the debate as a choice between natural gas and renewables. In reality, he argues, there needs to be a mix of energy sources, including better links with other jurisdictions.

Modelers know there will be days when demand will be high and generation from renewables will be low, he said. Backup planning must be done in advance, she noted, and it is the system operator’s job to do so.

“Whether it’s natural gas, nuclear, import capacity, battery storage, etc., geothermal. There’s no one who’s against that,” Leach said.

Jason Wang, senior energy policy analyst at clean energy think tank Pembina Institute, said Alberta needs to move forward with changes to its market regulations so energy storage from renewables can play a larger role.

Wang said that on Saturday the batteries were able to supply power for the first time during a grid event.

“The storage basically allowed us to gain a few more hours without needing a network alert,” Wang said.

Wang said natural gas generation also faces limits during extreme cold, although he said Alberta generators are better prepared for that scenario than facilities in Texas that came under pressure when a cold snap caused blackouts in 2021.

AESO spokesman Leif Sollid said consumption fell by 100 megawatts within seconds of people receiving alerts on Saturday night, and demand fell another 100 MW within a few more minutes.

“That was enough to make up the deficit we were facing and that prevented rotating cuts,” Sollid said in an interview Sunday.

The AESO declared another grid alert on Sunday afternoon, urging Albertans to reduce electricity consumption to essential use only until 8 p.m. to avoid the possibility of rotating outages.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2023.

Leave a Comment