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Saskatchewan starts tribunal to review Ottawa's clean electricity regulations

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REGINA -

The Saskatchewan government is using its autonomy legislation for the first time to review the federal government's proposed clean-electricity regulations.

Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre told reporters Tuesday she's implementing the Saskatchewan First Act to establish a tribunal to study the economic effects of the rules.

The regulations would require provinces to work toward an emissions-free electricity grid by 2035, which Eyre said is creating investor uncertainty.

"(The regulations) are about emission reduction, but what does it mean? How will it impact our companies in anticipation of these policies? Not exploring as much, not doing as much? Absolutely," Eyre said.

"We need to get a nuanced, detailed sense of what these policies mean for the economy of Saskatchewan and the people of Saskatchewan."

The act, passed in the spring, is meant to reassert Saskatchewan having jurisdiction over natural resources and electricity generation. It also allows Saskatchewan to set up a tribunal.

Eyre said the tribunal's members are to submit a report outlining costs of the federal regulations.

She said they are to work over the next few months, speaking with researchers and those in industry to help inform their report.

The minister said there are no plans to speak with environmental groups, as the tribunal is to only focus on economic costs.

Its members also have the power to compel witnesses to speak with them.

Michael Milani, a Regina lawyer who will chair the tribunal, said it's unlikely members would use that power.

He added he will ask Ottawa to make a submission.

"If the goal is to obtain the best and most complete information possible, I would think, as chair, we'd want that from all places and all quarters," Milani said.

"It may well be that the federal government will provide us with additional information and details so that the report will be the most complete and accurate that we're able to create."

Oliver Anderson, a spokesperson for the office of federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, said Tuesday that Ottawa has been transparent in developing the draft regulations.

Anderson said in an email the department is happy to keep collaborating with provinces as it considers making adjustments to the regulations.

"The bottom line is that Saskatchewan is very well situated to take advantage of all the benefits and opportunities that come with building a clean electricity grid, with world-class nuclear, wind and solar power capabilities and a leader in carbon capture technologies," he said.

Both Saskatchewan and Alberta have long been at odds with Ottawa over the regulations.

On Monday, Alberta used its sovereignty act for the first time, tabling a motion to empower provincial officials and regulators to not co-operate with the clean-electricity rules.

Alberta and Saskatchewan say Ottawa's 2035 timeline is not doable and would cause higher electricity bills and reliability issues. Instead, they are targeting 2050 for emissions-free electricity.

Guilbeault has disputed claims the regulations would impose unfair costs and reliability problems, saying Ottawa plans to cover up to half of the cost through tax credits, low-cost financing and other funds.

His office said Ottawa has spent $40 billion to help provinces build emissions-free electricity infrastructure, which supports jobs while reducing emissions.

Earlier this month, Dustin Duncan, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan's electricity utility, said the regulations would cost the province $40 billion.

Saskatchewan finance officials have also estimated a slew of federal environmental policies -- the price on carbon, clean fuel regulations, emissions caps and methane initiatives -- would cost the province $111 billion by 2035.

Eyre said even though officials have already outlined these costs, the tribunal is needed to "look at all angles."

"There are a lot of trickle-down impacts from these federal policies that have not been economically canvassed or plumbed or completely analyzed or quantified."

She added the tribunal's report could also be used as evidence in court, should the province file an injunction application in the future.

The province is to spend $150,000 this year on the tribunal, Eyre said. It would then cost $250,000 per year.

The tribunal's members have been appointed for three years and are expected to undertake additional studies after they review the regulations.

The tribunal also includes former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, former SaskEnergy CEO Kenneth From, agriculture researcher Stuart Smyth and oilsands worker Estella Peterson.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2023.

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