Alberta UCP at odds with own consultant over attack on NDP electricity plan

By Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Danielle Smith’s United Conservatives are at odds with their own third-party consultant over their claim that the NDP plan to move Alberta’s electricity grid to net zero would result in an economy-busting $87-billion hit to taxpayers.

Vancouver-based Navius Research, in a statement Thursday, disputed how the UCP is using its figures, saying it “is not a fair representation of the costs.”

Smith, however, told reporters in Calgary that the UCP stands by the number, saying: “No, we don’t need to issue a correction.”

The dispute stems from the UCP’s first major policy attack on the NDP ahead of the May 29 election.

On Wednesday, the party said the NDP promise to convert the electricity grid to net-zero by the end of 2035 would cost taxpayers $87 billion, leading to a 40 per cent spike in consumer electricity bills and posing a mortal threat to the long-term health of Alberta’s economy.

Smith reiterated that on Thursday.

“It is the most expensive campaign promise that has been put forward in this election,” she said. “It’s going to have a huge impact on affordability, and so, I would just invite you to look at both of those reports, and you can judge for yourself.”

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Smith was referring to a report from the Alberta Electric System Operator and one from Navius.

AESO estimated in a report last year it would cost between $44 billion and $52 billion to decarbonize the electricity grid by 2040.

Navius was then recently asked by the United Conservative caucus to calculate the possible knock-on effects to the economy from a net-zero grid.

Navius reported back just over a month ago, estimating there would be a $35-billion impact on the GDP over two decades, amounting to about three-one-hundredths of one per cent decline annually.

The UCP has acknowledged it then added the two numbers together to come up with the $87-billion figure.

Within hours of the UCP announcement Wednesday, Navius tweeted that its $35-billion figure is not in addition to the $52 billion but is baked in already.

“The $35 billion already accounts for, and is not additive to, the ($52 billion) investment estimated in the AESO report,” Navius said in the tweet.

“The cost to Alberta’s economy reported in the media today is more than double what our model suggests it will be.”

The Navius statement Thursday added: “The $35-billion GDP impact accounts for both the costs and benefits of this investment and provides an estimate of the net economic impact of decarbonizing the electricity sector in Alberta.

“Because of this, the $87-billion figure being communicated publicly by adding the $35 billion GDP impact and $52 billion investment together is not a fair representation of the costs of the policy.”

The UCP did not immediately respond to request for comment.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith is deliberately distorting the figures, and said even the AESO report overestimates the costs and underplays the benefits of moving to the net zero grid.

“We’ve got Danielle Smith out there refusing to disavow what is at the very least a $40-billion piece of misinformation that she and her team took active steps to share with Albertans,” Notley told reporters in Calgary.

“This is why Albertans can’t trust Danielle Smith.”

The UCP also did not immediately respond to questions on why it appears to have redacted part of the Navius report.

The original Navius report indicates on its title page the research was commissioned by the United Conservative caucus.

The UCP linked to that report in its news release Wednesday but redacted that information even though the text of the report still clearly states the analysis was created at the direction of the UCP caucus.

Notley said if parties are going to deliver primary source material to voters, they need to be open about what they are including and excluding.

“If the UCP can’t even be counted on to share transparently with voters their own work, how in heaven’s name can we count on them to be transparent about everything in government should, we give them four more years at the helm?”

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