6. A growing need for power: Mind the supply gap

Alberta’s appetite for electricity will grow in lockstep with its oilsands sector. The Alberta Electric System Operator predicts that 6,190 MW of new electricity generation capacity will be needed by 2022, and that 12,965 MW more will needed by 2032 (Alberta Electric System Operator, 2012).

When it comes to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions while meeting increasing supply needs, non-emitting renewable electricity is hands-down the most competitive and effective solution. Once a grid is cleaned up, it can enable emissions reductions in other sectors (such as transportation via electric vehicles). Many technologies for carbon sequestration and transformation of waste CO2 into valuable products hinge on low-emitting electricity sources. A cleaner grid enables these technologies and accelerates greenhouse-gas reductions.

To gain a better understanding of how renewables can fill the anticipated demand, we tabulated all the generation capacity currently in place or under construction, and forecasted generation from these sources out to 2033. We then compared this total with the anticipated demand, based on our analysis of data from both the industry and the Alberta Electric System Operator (EDC Associates, 2013, and Alberta Electric System  Operator, 2014). The analysis (see Figure 2) shows a “gap” between existing and committed generation and projected demand.

In September 2012, Canada’s federal government introduced regulations that limit the operational lives of coal power plants to a maximum of 50 years. The rules will very gradually reduce Alberta’s reliance on coal over the next five decades. The last of Alberta’s coal-fired power plants could still operate—without any requirement to reduce carbon pollution—through 2061.

Clearly, these existing federal regulations will not spark the province’s energy transition and transformation in the near-to-medium term.