Op-eds

Alberta’s booming renewables industry

Photo by: International Monetary Fund via Flickr

Being in the middle of the country’s sunbelt and home to a uniquely deregulated power market favoured by both energy developers and buyers, Alberta has been in something of a renewables “gold rush” for the past several years. Massive corporate buyers like tech giants Microsoft and Amazon have flocked to sign power purchase agreements with local producers, while the skilled workforce of Canada’s “energy province” built the projects. And, economically, it makes sense why. 

Electricity from both wind and solar are already cheaper to produce than gas-fired power in Alberta, while costs for new deployments are expected to decline a further 40% by 2035, as shown by modelling from Clean Energy Canada and Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors. The same study found that even with batteries included, for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, power from wind and solar would still be highly cost-competitive with natural gas. 

Such advantages have not been missed by Alberta’s renewables sector, which accounted for a whopping 60% of all new Canadian wind and solar installations in 2021, according to the Canadian Renewable Energy Association. By 2022, the province had surpassed its own interim target for electricity generated by wind and solar, while research firm Rystad Energy asserted that Alberta was on track to overtake Ontario as Canada’s top wind and solar producer in three years’ time. And up until Danielle Smith’s government surprised the renewables sector by imposing a largely unpopular—nevermind unnecessary—six-month moratorium on wind and solar development this August, Alberta had at least 118 projects worth $33 billion of investment in the pipeline, according to a Pembina Institute report.

The move not only leaves billions of dollars and 24,000 potential jobs in limbo while creating a “chilling effect” on the investment climate, it also risks leaving Southern Alberta municipalities high and dry. The Business Renewables Centre-Canada recently estimated that wind and solar projects generated $28 million in tax revenue for local cities and towns last year, occasionally making up to half the tax collected by some municipalities. Those are stable, long-term revenues that get invested into communities and help keep property taxes low.

And with 92% of global GDP now covered by net-zero commitments, it is clear that the world is headed toward a new reality—one with a lot more demand for clean power. Since 2019, corporate renewable energy deals in Alberta have alone attracted nearly $4.7 billion in new capital investment and supported 5,300 jobs, according to the Business Renewables Centre-Canada. Yet there is more to gain.

According to recent modelling from Clean Energy Canada and Navius Research, in a net-zero world, Canada will see 700,000 more total energy jobs in 2050 than exist today, with growth in clean energy jobs outpacing a decline in fossil fuel ones. Meanwhile, jobs in Alberta’s clean energy sector will grow 10% a year out to 2050 in this scenario—a faster pace than any other province or territory. Like the rest of Canada, Alberta will see a bigger increase in clean energy jobs than its gradual decrease in fossil fuel ones.

The future of Alberta’s oil industry will be determined by global forces, and this transition won’t happen overnight. But when it comes to renewables, the province has a choice. A choice to build more. A choice to be open for business. And a choice to help create and incentivize a lasting, world-leading energy sector that can thrive for decades and decades to come. 

This post was co-authored by Sicellia Tsui and originally appeared in the Alberta Energy Report.

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