Seizing Alberta's Opportunity to Lead the Clean Energy Revolution

Oped - June 29, 2009 - By Tim Weis, Steve Kennett

Published in The Lethbridge Herald (June 29, 2009).

 By Tim Weis and Steve Kennett

The Pembina Institute agrees with the Canadian Nuclear Society that a full and informed public debate about Alberta's electricity future is long overdue. Given the rapid and sustained global investment in renewable energy, this debate is only half-complete in Alberta if renewable energy is not fully considered.

Alberta has vast renewable energy resources, and private entrepreneurs in Alberta have demonstrated a willingness to invest billions of dollars in it, but renewable energy is still not being considered seriously by the provincial government.

In January, the Pembina Institute completed an investigation into the renewable energy potential for Alberta. Our report, Greening the Grid, outlines the opportunities as well as the limitations and challenges of transforming Alberta's electricity from the dirtiest to one of the cleanest in Canada. We found that Alberta could go from being 70 per cent coal-based to 70 per cent clean technology in a span of only 20 years, if Albertans so chose.

Our research looked at international precedents, the current status of technology and integration constraints, and it included input from utilities, system operators, developers and trade associations from across the province. We found no silver bullets to transform the system from brown to green, but green options are more possible now than ever before, and it is time to include them for serious discussion.

The Province of Alberta has already commissioned expert panels on nuclear power and on carbon capture and storage. If Albertans are truly going to make informed decisions about their electricity supply, a panel on the potential for renewable power must also be convened.

According to the United Nations, 2008 was the first year that more money was invested globally in developing renewable electricity than fossil fuel-based electricity, such as coal or natural gas. Once Canada's leader, Alberta risks becoming a marginal player in this global boom.

In the United States, President Obama has pledged to double the amount of renewable power in the next three years and has already invested billions to begin this process. Meanwhile the chairman of the American Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, John Wellinghoff, stated in early 2009 that renewables have advanced so far that the United States may never need to build another coal or nuclear power plant.

In Germany renewable energy already employs more than 250,000 people, and the industry is expected to grow to $1 trillion by the year 2020. The Green Energy Act that Ontario passed this spring is modelled after Germany's successes in deploying renewable energy and creating new jobs.

The City of Lethbridge showed that it wants to be part of the global renewable energy leadership when it called for a renewable energy expert panel to determine what is possible in Alberta and what needs to be done to get there.

The Greening the Grid report and the public discussion forums accompanying its release were not meant to be a prescription, but rather to seed the discussion of what is realistic in Alberta today. The Alberta Electric System Operator has identified the vast wind resource in southern Alberta as a priority. Public consultations are already underway that would enable up to 3,500 MW of wind power. This amounts to almost half the wind Alberta could build to achieve a green scenario outlined in Greening the Grid and would put us well on the road to new jobs and economic diversification for southern Alberta.

Whatever one's views are on the relative merits of nuclear versus renewable energy, we can all agree that Alberta needs to consider all options for greening its electricity system. The time has come to follow the City of Lethbridge's lead in calling for an expert panel to examine the full potential for renewable energy. Having all the facts in front of us is an indispensible component of this debate.


Tim Weis is a professional engineer, the director of the renewable energy and efficiency policy program at the Pembina Institute and co-author of Greening the Grid: Powering Alberta's Future with Renewable Energy, available free at http://www.pembina.org/pubs. Steve Kennett is a Senior Policy Analyst.


Tim Weis

Dr. Tim Weis was the director of the Pembina Institute's renewable electricity program until 2014.

Steve Kennett

Steve Kennett was a senior policy analyst at the Pembina Institute until 2009.


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