When dairy farmer John Bocock decided to install solar panels on his family’s farm northwest of Edmonton instead of leasing a bigger transformer, his reasons were practical. First, it was a smart economic investment. Bocock could generate the power he needed and sell back the extra. Second, it was about long-term security.
“We know that pollution from fossil fuels has a cost because we’ve experienced it. Dryer conditions, the health of our cattle, our own health.” Bocock thought about what it would take to protect the farm for the next generation, and he chose the energy source to match it.
Today, all of Alberta is in Bocock’s shoes, on the brink of setting its own energy destiny. The province is working to dramatically increase renewable electricity sources to replace coal-fired power, which the government aims to phase out by 2030.
But moving forward on renewables now is not only bold, it is practical — if Alberta wants to forge its future as an energy leader.
The goal is ambitious. The timeline is aggressive. And some are wondering if the province is moving too fast. But moving forward on renewables now is not only bold, it is practical — if Alberta wants to forge its future as an energy leader.
The phase-out of coal is inevitable. All of the world’s developed economies, and many developing ones, are moving away from coal-fired electricity. Ultimately, Alberta will, too — and the health implications alone make it tough to justify delaying. We know that coal increases and worsens asthma, hurts children’s lung development, and increases cardiac disease. Coal-related pollution costs Alberta $300 million a year in health-care expenses, and sends as many as 100 Albertans to an early death each year.
We also know that burning coal is a major source of carbon pollution. Phasing it out sends a clear signal that Alberta is taking its climate commitments seriously.
But starting now on the transition from coal to renewables is as much — if not more — about seizing opportunity as it is about avoiding risk.
The world is on the cusp of a major energy shift that will see 60 per cent of the planet’s power mix come from zero-emission sources in the next 25 years. Last year, twice as much money was invested globally in renewable energy as in fossil fuels. Technology advances are lowering the costs and quickening the expansion of renewables like wind and solar.
Every 150 MW of wind energy capacity built represents $316 million in new investment, according to the Canadian wind and solar energy associations.
Alberta has the engineering capacity and renewable energy potential to capitalize on these trends — and create new jobs and revenue streams in the process. Every 150 MW of wind energy capacity built represents $316 million in new investment, according to the Canadian wind and solar energy associations. Every solar project of that scale creates 2,000 full-time construction jobs. Both technologies offer rural landowners opportunities as leaseholders and site-hosts for renewable projects.
As VP of Morgan Solar, Hugo Navarro recently said: “Alberta is an exciting place for projects right now.” His company is partnering with Enbridge Inc. to build a flagship utility-scale solar power plant in Vulcan, using revolutionary, high-efficiency panels.
It’s no surprise to see Enbridge’s name connected with this project. Alberta’s traditional energy sector is one of the biggest players in the renewable transition. Enbridge is the third-largest renewable electricity operator in Canada. TransAlta is the first. These corporations aren’t gambling on the remote potential of renewables; they are deliberately moving their eggs into new, more competitive baskets.
It’s a strategy the Alberta government is wise to pursue, especially while it can do so on its own terms. The next year will be a decisive one for Canada’s national climate change strategy. All provinces will be asked to look hard at how their energy agendas align with Canada’s climate commitments. If Alberta does not grasp the reins of its own clean energy destiny, others may set the course instead.
Albertans want a thriving, competitive, innovative economy for generations to come. That means making the practical decision to ensure our energy supply will support our ambitions, starting now.
Written by Dan Woynillowicz. Originally published in the Calgary Herald May 28, 2016.