Health Advocates Press Alberta to Green Its Grid

Coal Makes Her SickA coalition of public-health advocates dragged Alberta’s coal-power producers back into the spotlight this week by running a series of advertisements urging the province to accelerate its transition away from the polluting energy source.

The ads, sponsored by the Asthma Society of Canada, The Lung Association and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, depict a young girl clutching an asthma inhaler, with the headline “Coal makes her sick.” They cite data from A Costly Diagnosis, a study released earlier this year that concluded emissions from coal-fired plants cause 4,800 days of missed school or work a year in Alberta due to illness.

Alberta burns more coal than all other provinces put together. In 2012, according to A Costly Diagnosis, the fuel provided 64 percent of the province’s power needs. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The prairie province is awash in untapped renewable resources, from wind and sun to hydroelectricity.

In its recently released WindVision for Alberta report, the The Canadian Wind Energy Association notes that Alberta has about 5,000 megawatts of easily accessible wind resources that can produce energy at a more affordable cost than virtually any other form of electricity generation available today—including coal.

Meanwhile, a March 2013 Alberta Government report—citing earlier research for the Alberta Utilities Commission—reckons that the province has only tapped four percent of its hydroelectric potential of 53,000 gigawatt hours per year.

For an example of what can we done, we can look to Norway, another resource economy, but one that is investing heavily in renewable energy.

Late last month, Norway awarded concessions to build 1,300 megawatts of onshore wind farms—some 450 turbines. Forbes quoted the country’s energy minister as saying that the wind farms would constitute “the world’s largest wind power project,” and “one of the largest investments ever made in mainland Norway.”

Norway intends to backstop its variable-output renewables with its massive hydropower reservoirs, the magazine added. Together all that parked water represents a gigantic 16.2 terawatt-hours of stored energy, giant “green batteries.”

Alberta could follow Norway’s leadership by developing its renewable resources, and firming them up via new hydropower, and/or improved or new links to existing hydro assets in British Columbia or even Manitoba.

A majority of Albertans agree that coal isn’t the right choice. According to our recent polling, almost 70 percent of Albertans would like their province to phase out its coal power plants or shut them down altogether in favour of natural gas and renewable energy sources.

This week’s advertisements hit Albertans with that same message, and invited them to contact their government and ask it to do something about it.

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