Under all three policies, facilities that exceed their target have three choices: buy credits from another facility, buy carbon offsets, or pay into a government fund at the applicable carbon price (currently $30 per tonne).
That fund is then used to dole out grants that support technology and innovation aimed at reducing emissions.
But, under TIER, that's not all the money will be used for.
Deficit reduction and the 'war room'
According to the provincial budget released last week, the province expects to take in about $478 million in carbon charges from large emitters in the next fiscal year.
Of that, it plans to put $200 million toward "innovation and technology." Another $189 million is earmarked for deficit reduction and to fund the government's energy "war room," a public relations operation that aims to combat what the province describes as misinformation about the oil and gas industry.
Hastings-Simon noted the money raised under CCIR was also used for things other than emissions-reducing technology, but said "the use of funds has broadened" under TIER.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with using revenue raised from a carbon tax to do other things," she said. "Of course, the more you spend it on programs that reduce emissions, the more emissions reductions you get. And vice versa."
And that leads to the next question: How will all this affect Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions?
Some see TIER as less effective — slightly
In a PowerPoint presentation provided to reporters Tuesday morning, the provincial government said there would be no real difference in emissions reduction once TIER replaces CCIR.
"Emissions outcomes are expected to be similar to the previous regulation," the presentation states.
Government staff reiterated that during a conference call with reporters, saying that because the per-tonne price remains the same between CCIR and TIER, the incentive for facilities to reduce their emissions also remains the same.
But an earlier version of the presentation obtained by CBC News, which includes speaking notes for the presenter, suggests otherwise.
"Emissions reductions are anticipated to be approximately five megatonnes less in 2024 under TIER than under the preceding CCIR," the speaking notes read.
A senior government official who agreed to speak to CBC News on condition that their name not be published, for the purpose of clarifying the ins and outs of this complex policy, said the difference is slight and due to a variety of factors.
"[TIER] is still getting almost the same reductions as CCIR, with considerably less cost to industry," the official said.
"Basically they're the same when it comes to the effect of the regulation. Where there's a difference is that, under the NDP, there were some other complementary measures ... and so when you added those in, that's where you get about a six megatonne difference."
For context, six megatonnes is about 2.2 per cent of the roughly 273 megatonnes Alberta emitted in 2017.
The official also noted the broader UCP plan will have "other programs" to complement TIER, which are expected to further reduce emissions.
The new policy has been praised by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers for recognizing the "unique circumstances" of each facility but, in the eyes of the Pembina Institute, TIER represents a step backward from CCIR.
The new regulation "sends a weaker signal for industry to reduce emissions," according to Jan Gorski, an analyst with the environmental think-tank.
"The new system is unfair and inefficient, sending skewed market signals by punishing companies with good performance and those that have already taken steps to reduce emissions while rewarding those that haven't taken steps to reduce emissions," Gorski said in a written statement.
Hastings-Simon, who used to work with Pembina, said there's a mix of pros and cons in the new regulation, if the goal is to curb Alberta's output of greenhouse gases.
"It's a change but not a complete retreat," she said. "It's not like a 180. It's a shift."
By maintaining the industry-wide target on power plants, she said the UCP's new legislation is actually more stringent on electricity producers than even the federal backstop on large emitters would be. But, by loosening the targets for all other industries, she worries the province is sending the wrong signal — not in terms of carbon price, but overall psychology.
While she understands, in theory, that the incentive to reduce emissions remains the same if the price stays at $30 per tonne, she doesn't believe that's how things always play out in practice, especially among the heaviest emitters that face the biggest obstacles in reducing their carbon footprint.
"If you're in the business of making and selling widgets, you think about, 'OK, well, I better get down to my target so I don't have to pay a carbon price,'" she said. "But you don't necessarily then think, 'Oh, well, if I reduce my target even more, I'm going to get emissions performance credits that I can sell to somebody else.' Because that's not your your main business."
That said, the $30 price may continue to climb.
Federal rules — and uncertainty
Existing federal legislation will bump the minimum carbon price up to $40 in 2021, then $50 in 2022 — assuming nothing changes in Ottawa. But with the uncertainty of a minority Parliament, nothing is set in stone.
In their conference call with reporters Tuesday, provincial government officials admitted the door is open to future price increases under TIER, given the direction the federal government has provided so far.
Nixon, however, said he wouldn't entertain the "significantly hypothetical question" of how big a carbon price Alberta's large emitters will have to pay in 2021 and beyond.
"We will be having that conversation with the federal government and we will be having that conversation with industry," he said.
How high will the carbon price go in the future? That remains an open question.
What's certain, for now, is that avoiding that price — or profiting from it — is about to get easier for some of Alberta's biggest emitters.