St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador company Beothuk Energy Inc. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iron & Earth, a non-profit Edmonton-based social enterprise led by ex-oilsands workers, to re-focus their skills on clean energy projects such as Beothuk’s St. George’s Bay offshore wind energy project in western Newfoundland, as well as its other projects throughout the Maritimes.
Beothuk plans to eventually build five proposed wind farms, two located in Newfoundland, starting with the one at St. George’s Bay, and Burgeo Banks, as well as one project each located in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, altogether producing a total of 4,000 MW of energy.
Beothuk says it expects to create approximately 10 jobs for each MW produced, a goal that has the potential to change not only the balance of energy supply in the region, but also the employment situation.
“This partnership is expected to further facilitate the apprenticeships and retraining necessary for oil and gas workers to move into the offshore wind sector,” Iron & Earth said.
Iron & Earth was established in 2015 to provide oil and gas workers with new employment and training opportunities in a sector that’s on the rise, rather than on the decline, as an alternative to simply waiting for a rebound in the oil and gas sector which may or may not ever happen.
Management at both Beothuk and Iron & Earth say they have paid close attention to the European industry’s shift from oil and gas to renewables that has already taken place, successfully transitioning skilled workers, as well as related supply chain industries and executives into cleantech.
“When the labour market recognizes a global shift, and becomes a first mover, it sends a strong signal to Canadians, to government, to industry,” said Beothuk Energy Chairman and CEO Kirby Mercer. “It’s a movement from blue-collar to green-collar.”
Mutually supportive commitments from both ground-up workers’ initiatives like Iron & Earth and top-down government policy bolster agreements already made by Canada at last year’s Paris conference and at the recent Three Amigos summit between Justin Trudeau, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Barack Obama, which produced a commitment to 50% clean energy across North America by 2025.
A report by Policy Horizons Canada, obtained by an access to information request by CBC, finds that not only is Canada’s status as an energy “superpower” threatened by what it sees as a faster-than-anticipated decline in the fossil fuel sector, but also that “It is increasingly plausible to foresee a future in which cheap renewable electricity becomes the world’s primary power source and fossil fuels are relegated to a minority status.”
Iron & Earth claims on its website that Canada’s oil and gas sector has shed 40,000 jobs in 2015 alone and that “it’s prudent to invest in the future by training existing industrial trades workers to capitalize on this global shift.”
Siemens Canada forecasts renewable energy investments that will generate up to $50 billion in Alberta and Saskatchewan over the next 14 years, an economic opportunity that depends to a large degree on provincial governments’ willingness to embrace the shift from a previous way of life to another.
Iron and Earth is currently preparing to retrain 1,000 unemployed oil and gas workers in Western Canada under its “solar skills” campaign, installing solar panels and conducting energy retrofits.