Alberta must seize energy transition opportunity

In the last year, global economies have bet trillions on the energy transition. The billions of clean energy investments in Canada’s recent budget was spurred by the half a trillion dollars delivered in the U.S.’s Inflation Reduction Act, not to mention Europe’s own multi-billion-euro Green Deal Industrial Plan. Meanwhile, jobs in clean energy surpassed those in fossil fuels for the first time.

Alberta’s government, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. In response to the federal government’s new plan to prepare workers for the energy transition, Premier Danielle Smith replied, “We are not going to be shutting down our oil and natural gas industry. We are not going to be transitioning our workers … into installing solar panels.”

The problem is that, while such words may pay lip service to Albertan oil and gas workers, they don’t serve them in reality. Most significantly, they fail to recognize the province’s biggest energy opportunity.

Net-zero commitments now exist in most of the world, covering 92 per cent of global GDP. The Albertan government itself recently released a climate plan featuring an “aspirational” 2050 target.

But despite hinting at a net-zero direction, Alberta’s climate ambitions lack any near-term waypoints that would guide its economy to a prosperous net-zero 2050. The International Energy Agency forecasts that oil demand will peak in the next few years, even absent new policies, and that global oil consumption will be just a quarter of what it is today in a net-zero 2050. By failing to produce a serious plan, Alberta is passing up on an enormous opportunity.

In a world that achieves net zero by 2050, there will be more total energy jobs in Alberta than there are today, according to a new Clean Energy Canada study. Specifically, there would be 419,000 Albertan clean energy jobs added by mid-century — far more than the 324,000-job decline projected in fossil fuels. Alberta’s clean energy sector would be the fastest growing of any province or territory in Canada, with jobs increasing 10 per cent every year.

As much as Alberta’s leaders belabour the province’s oil and gas identity, its energy resources aren’t found solely in its hydrocarbon reserves — but also in its trained workforce. Many workers already have the skills needed in the clean energy sector: electricians, pipefitters, welders, engineers, drillers. The province’s fossil fuel heritage offers a unique on-ramp to a clean energy future.

Indeed, Alberta’s geology and expertise make it perfectly positioned for carbon capture and storage, with jobs set to grow almost 900 per cent between 2025 and a net-zero 2050. And given the province’s role as a leading hydrogen producer, it’s no surprise that clean hydrogen production in Alberta would grow 39 per cent a year out to 2050. The transition to clean energy also creates new inroads for Alberta to play in other industries in the broader clean energy sector. Calgary-based E3 Lithium, for example, is extracting lithium (used in EV batteries) from oil field brines.

Meanwhile, jobs in new renewable electricity generation would increase by 70 per cent between 2025 and a net-zero 2050, with Alberta boasting some of the best wind and solar resources in the country (a fact that Premier Smith appears to have overlooked when she told a recent convention, “We are a natural gas province and we will continue to build natural gas power plants.”) In fact, another recent Clean Energy Canada report found that new wind and solar in Alberta can already produce cheaper power than new natural gas, with more reductions on the horizon.

In short, benefits abound for an Alberta that embraces the energy transition. And it wouldn’t be the only North American oil-and-gas-producing region to seize its advantages. Texas already generates more renewable energy than any other U.S. state, while lawmakers in North Dakota, one of America’s largest oil producers after Texas, just unanimously voted down a proposed new law designed to protect oil and gas interests at the expense of cleaner ones.

Denying the realities of a changing world is akin to betting against our climate and the largest global economies. The energy transition represents a huge economic opportunity for Alberta — if only its leaders had a serious plan to seize it.

This post was co-authored by Keri McNamara and originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.

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