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Alberta premier begins environmental PR tour to fix oil sands reputation

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Alberta premier begins environmental PR tour to fix oil sands reputation

Almostimmediately after taking office as Alberta's 17th premier, Rachel Notley andher fellow NewDemocratic Party lawmakers moved to roll out sweeping climate change and energypolicy that would change the reputation of the oil-producing province into onethat innovates and produces fossil fuels responsibly.

Almosta year after the historic election that saw Alberta's long-reigning ProgressiveConservative government relegated to third place in the provincial legislature,Notley is embarking on something of a public relations tour to prove thatAlberta has changed. One of her first stops was Washington, D.C., where onApril 28 she delivered a lecture for Canadian studies students at the JohnsHopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

"I'msure you've heard quite a lot about our province. Especially about the oilsands," Notley said. "And quite frankly, it's possible that some ofyou have heard things that haven't necessarily been that positive."

Notleywas careful in her criticism of the previous Alberta government, which held theoffice for 44 years before the orange crush of her New Democratic Party in May2015, but she did say that past governments did not do much to fix thereputation of Alberta's oil sands. In fact, the previous government proposed toexpand the province's oil sands production, which Notley said would have raisedthe industry's annual emissions to 300,000 megatonnes compared to the 70,000megatonnes currently emitted.

"Thatwas at the core of the concern that caused Alberta to be vilified around theworld," Notley said.

InNovember 2015, the new Alberta government released its proposed , which will phaseout coal-fired generation within 15 years, cap oil sands emissions at 100megatonnes annually and implement a carbon tax. The carbon levy, as Notleycalls it, will tax emissions in the province economy-wide starting in January2017 at C$20 per tonne, rising to C$30 per tonne by January 2018.

Themoney will be reinvested back into green energy and efficiency programs. Notleysaid Alberta is the only province in Canada without an energy efficiencyprogram, and a portion of the revenue from the new carbon tax will be used tocreate such a program.

"Sincethis is an emissions limit, and not a production limit, this emissions limitwill encourage current and future projects to be more innovative, andspecifically to develop production methods that emit less carbon," Notleysaid.

Theprovince also intends to invest in energy technology that could someday find away to prevent emissions of carbon from fossil fuel extraction and powergeneration.

"Alberta'snext big energy exports might not be carried necessarily through pipelines. Itcould be the technology that helps the world to reduce carbon emissions fromnon-renewable energy production," Notley said.

Regardingcarbon capture and sequestration technology, the long-struggling method tocapture carbon released from processes such as coal-fired power generation,Notley said the province has invested in those projects but doing so is not apriority at this time. However, she said the province would support a proponentadding CCS to a project.

Alberta'spower is primarily generated with coal-fired power plants, so significantinvestments in renewable energy will be made over the 15-year period tocompensate for the loss of capacity. The province has former CEO TerryBoston to negotiate the transition.

Notleyis aware that some of Alberta's nine power plants might not be at the end oftheir useful life now and some may still not be before 2030. She said strandedasset and economic concerns have to be respected and balanced, but noted thatthe federal government is also targeting coal-fired generation and those powerplants may very well be on the chopping block even absent the province's policy.

Thecurrent goal for Alberta is to generate cleaner power independently, within theprovince, even though its neighbor, British Columbia, has an abundance ofhydropower. Notley said Alberta can go it alone by tapping into natural gasresources and investing in renewable generation.

Notleyacknowledged that rock bottom oil prices have placed her province in an "economicallyfragile" situation. She hopes oil prices recover, and believes the newenergy policy has been designed in a way that will support increasedproduction. But this dramatic change in Alberta's economy, Notley believes,made voters more open to a similarly dramatic turnaround in environmentalpriorities.

"Weare going through such an economic shock right now with the price of oildropping so low, and the impact that has on the Alberta economy in some ways italmost makes it easier for people to contemplate change, because change hasbeen thrust upon them in many ways," Notley said. She added that her newenergy policy is an economic diversification effort. "Albertans [are] muchmore dimensional than perhaps people anticipate or imagine," she said.