Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks, Shannon Phillips, announced plans on Tuesday to add 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, estimating that focusing on renewables will bring C$10.5 billion into the economy and create at least 7,200 new jobs for Albertans.
Alberta’s Renewable Electricity Program has set a target of 30% for the province’s total use of renewable sources for electricity generation by 2030, including from wind, hydro or solar.
“Growing our renewables sector is a transformational opportunity for Alberta to become a more energy-efficient, lower-carbon province,” said Phillips. “These targets provide clarity for Albertans, industry, Indigenous communities, municipalities and all stakeholders, and will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow our economy.”
The province’s current capacity is 16,300 MW, with 51% coming from coal-fired plants, which the government intends to phase out completely by 2030, expecting that 70% of the mix by that time will be supplied by natural gas.
In November, the Alberta government will be releasing details of an auction to screen proposals for new projects from developers, on condition that the projects are at least 5 megawatts in size and made by companies that are based in Alberta.
“We are showing real leadership by implementing a clear and measurable target for renewable electricity, which is based on expert advice, protects the reliability of our system and is cost-effective for consumers and investors,” said Alberta Minister of Energy Margaret McCuaig-Boyd. “At the end of the day, our approach will encourage a more diversified electricity system while creating new, green jobs for Albertans.”
Alberta is Canada’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter, the result of both its energy-intensive oil sands production and its reliance on coal-fired power stations.
Despite the potential for solar power in the southern prairies, with its open and cloudless skies exposed to 40% more solar radiation per square meter than in Germany, the country that leads the world in solar generating capacity, Alberta has lagged behind the rest of the developed world because of access to cheap fossil fuels and a lack of incentive to diversify.
Ontario is Canada’s leading solar power generator, even though it has 20% less solar power potential than Alberta.
“TransAlta supports the diversification of generation as the province brings on new renewable energy,” said TransAlta President & CEO Dawn Farrell. “We know there are many opportunities in hydro, wind and solar that will help us reach the goal. As Canada’s leading renewable company we look forward to working with the government on the transition to a lower carbon future.”
Phillips has no estimate for how much the government’s energy transition program will cost, but believes that it would be paid for by Alberta’s new carbon levy, which takes effect on January 1 and is expected to raise $3 billion in fiscal 2017-2018.
“For too long, discussions about climate change have focused on what we can’t do. Now that renewable technology costs have reached new lows, it’s time to focus on what we can do with our tremendous renewable energy resources,” said Canadian Solar Industries Association President & CEO John Gorman. “Today’s announcement sets a renewable energy target that is achievable while establishing Alberta as a progressive and leading jurisdiction in the global effort to reduce emissions. Solar energy is ready to be a big contributor to a strong and clean Alberta economy.”
The Canadian Solar Industries Association says that nearly 7,000 MW of wind power and 600 MW of solar power projects have already been proposed to the Alberta Electric System Operator in anticipation of the government’s policy shift, including by Suncor Energy Inc. and Electricité de France SA (EDF).
Non-profit Edmonton-based social enterprise Iron & Earth, led by ex-oilsands workers, was established in 2015 to help oil and gas workers re-focus their skills on clean energy projects, offering new employment and training opportunities in a sector that’s on the rise, as an alternative to simply waiting for a rebound in the oil and gas sector which may or may not ever happen.
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.”