Alberta officially ends agency created to handle green rebates and programs

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EDMONTON — Alberta is closing the door on an agency that championed eco-initiatives but was ridiculed by Premier Jason Kenney as a costly conduit for “shower heads and light bulbs.”

Grant Hunter, associate minister in charge of red tape reduction, says the remaining duties and responsibilities of Energy Efficiency Alberta — and its $8-million budget — will be folded into other departments or the current Emissions Reduction Alberta.

“None of the programs that are currently there will be taken away,” Hunter said in an interview Thursday.

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“(But) we don’t need to have two agencies doing the same thing.”

Emissions Reduction Alberta, established in 2007, is an arm’s-length agency that uses greenhouse gas levies paid by large emitters to invest in projects to reduce greenhouse gases.

“Our government has always maintained that we must leverage our industry partners and small- and medium-sized businesses in order to tackle emissions,” Environment Minister Jason Nixon said in a statement.

“We have also committed to streamlining government delivery of services and cutting red tape. By rolling (the two agencies together), we are accomplishing all of the above.”

Energy Efficiency Alberta was launched in 2017 by the former NDP government. It was the centrepiece of a broader commitment to move Alberta toward a greener economy.

The agency used money from a carbon tax brought in by the NDP on gasoline and heating fuels to fund initiatives and rebates on everything from solar panels to energy-efficient appliances, windows, insulation, LED light bulbs and low-flow shower heads.

Kenney, in the 2019 election campaign won by the United Conservatives, promised to end the provincial carbon tax. He followed through, but it was replaced with a federal one.

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He also promised to end Energy Efficiency Alberta, which he suggested epitomized an NDP government committed to raising taxes in the service of a bloated bureaucracy administering projects best left to the free market.

“We don’t need bureaucrats changing our shower heads and our light bulbs,” Kenney said in March 2019.

Kenney’s government cancelled Energy Efficiency Alberta’s rebate programs last fall while continuing with lesser-known programs such as the Green Loan Guarantee, which supports lenders offering cash to support renewable energy projects.

The agency has estimated its programs were not a drain on the economy but rather a propellant, delivering $850 million in economic growth and returning $3.20 for every $1 invested.

The agency shutdown is part of an omnibus bill introduced in the house by Hunter. Among other changes, it proposes an end to cabinet approval of oilsands projects.

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Those projects are currently accepted or rejected by the Alberta Energy Regulator, then go to cabinet for confirmation.

Officials said the double approval isn’t needed, because cabinet does not interfere in the regulator’s decisions. Hunter said it also needlessly delayed the approvals, sometimes by up to 10 months.

The bill also eliminates Canadian residency requirements for boards of directors and devolves other powers from cabinet to individual ministers.

NDP red tape reduction critic Chris Nielsen said the bill is 175 pages with hundreds of proposed legal changes, and it’s being pushed through the legislature in the middle of a pandemic.

“This bill gives enormous amounts of power to individual ministers, removes transparency and accountability measures (and) weakens legal protections across the board,” said Nielsen.

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NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt said cabinet must have a role in oilsands approvals, as it is responsible for broader public concerns beyond what is considered by the Alberta Energy Regulator.

“No one elected the AER,” said Schmidt.

“The AER is not part of a system of government representing multiple perspectives held accountable to the public.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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