The CEO and president of the Alberta Electric System Operator, Michael Law, will “leave the organization,” after a tumultuous year which had him pushing back on the Alberta government’s seven-month moratorium on new renewable energy development.

Law had been with the operator, the independent organization overseeing the province’s electricity grid, for 15 years and president and CEO since 2019. In internal correspondence obtained by The Narwhal via a freedom of information request, Law pushed back against what he dubbed “ministerial desires” to halt all new renewable energy projects.

The documents revealed Law was opposed to a moratorium on new renewable energy projects and was “not comfortable” supporting the decision, but that he was told by his government-appointed board chair, Karl Johannson, to “support the minister without reservation.”

In the announcement of Law’s departure — which did not specify the circumstances of his exit  — Johannson said a new CEO would take over. “This is a critical time for the [Alberta Electric System Operator] as we move towards both a new market design and significant energy transition activities,” Johnson said. “The [Alberta Electric System Operator] continues to focus on the next milestone as it progresses design work on the restructured energy market in parallel with government policy.”

A spokesperson for Alberta Electric System Operator did not respond to questions about the circumstances surrounding Law’s departure by publication time.

A solar installation sits behind a chain link fence topped with barbed wire, with a sign that says danger, keep out.
The CEO of the Alberta electricity grid operator will leave the orgnization. Mike Law had opposed Alberta’s moratorium on new renewable energy projects. The government lifted the moratorium earlier this year and announced new rules around where they can be developed and under what conditions. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

To replace Law, the organization announced board of directors member Aaron Engen will assume the role of president and CEO on Aug. 1, 2024. Engen joined the organization’s board in 2020.

According to the press release, Engen has more than two decades of investment banking experience most recently at BMO Capital Markets. The announcement said he co-headed BMO’s Energy Transition group, which focused on “key sectors including hydrogen, carbon capture and sequestration, renewable natural gas, renewable power generation, energy storage and small modular reactors.”

Announcement of departure comes on the heels of contested Alberta renewable energy moratorium

On Aug. 3, 2023, the Alberta government announced a seven-month moratorium on all new renewable energy projects, much to the surprise of the industry. 

“The Alberta Electric System Operator asked for us to do a pause, to make sure that we could address issues of stability of the grid,” Premier Danielle Smith said in August 2023 when pressed by reporters asking why the government made the decision. 

But behind the scenes, the government had spent months considering the moratorium and whether to launch an inquiry into renewable energy regulations in the province. 

An email from AESO board chair Karl Johannson to his colleagues, making it clear the CEO is not comfortable writing a letter of support on the renewables pause for the government.
An email from Karl Johannson, chair of the Alberta Electric System Operator to his board colleagues, saying last July Mike Law, CEO of the organization, was “not comfortable” writing a letter of support for the government’s pause on renewable energy development.

Hundreds of pages of documents, obtained by The Narwhal through freedom of information requests, showed the government expressed its desire to halt projects only one month into its mandate. They showed the government was behind the push, and not independent agencies as Smith repeatedly claimed. 

Internal emails obtained by The Narwhal also revealed that Law found the pause “very troubling” and worried it would send the industry into a “tailspin.”

In response to Law’s concerns, board chair Johannson asked him to support the Alberta’s Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf, writing to his colleagues about Law’s reluctance to write a government-requested letter publicly supporting the renewables pause, “As you can imagine, Mike [Law] is not comfortable with this but he has agreed to provide the letter,” Johannson wrote on July 19. “I told him to support the minister without reservation. Nothing good will happen if the minister feels that the [Alberta Electric System Operator] is not behind the decision.”

We’re covering energy on the Prairies
The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.
The Narwhal’s Prairies bureau is here to bring you stories on energy and the environment you won’t find anywhere else. Stay tapped in by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism.
We’re covering energy on the Prairies

A spokesperson for Alberta Electric System Operator did not respond to questions about whether Law’s departure was related to his opposition to the renewable energy pause by publication time.

UCP government portrayed AESO board chair as driving force behind renewables pause

After The Narwhal published a series of articles revealing the internal correspondence at the grid operator, members of the provincial government portrayed Johannson as the driving force behind the plan.

“In fact, it was from the board chair of [the Alberta Electric System Operator] that suggested that a pause could be utilized,” Affordability and Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf said in the legislature on May 7 in response to questions from Opposition MLA Nagwan Al-Guneid. 

A spokesperson for Alberta Electric System Operator did not respond to requests for interviews with Law or Johannson by publication time.

With files from Drew Anderson

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

See similar stories

Heat, humidity, wildfires: what the weather report reveals about your health risks

For many Canadians, the summer months are a precious reprieve from long, cold and dark winters. Summer is for barbecues and beach days, camping and...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a big story. Sign up for free →
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s reporting on the natural world.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s reporting on the natural world.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'