OK, Alberta creates more greenhouse gasses than any other province. Let’s get that out of the way. We are, after all, the country’s major oil and gas producer—being the emissions villain naturally follows.
And it’s not only oil and gas. Early in this century, 74 percent of the generating power on Alberta’s electricity grid came from coal.
But, as illustrated in the Alberta Views October article “A clean energy powerhouse,” that is changing. Fast. The NDP government set a target to phase out coal by 2030—that milestone is now expected to be reached in 2023. This has been achieved largely by substituting natural gas, still a fossil fuel but a big step forward nonetheless.
More importantly, renewables are coming on strong in the province. Half of the new wind power and most solar developed across the country in 2021 was being installed in Alberta. This includes the country’s largest solar farm, soon to be dwarfed by the 465-megawatt Travers Solar project under construction by Greengate Power near Vulcan. Greengate’s CEO, Dan Balaban, refers to Alberta as “the sunshine state of the north.” Lethbridge, in the deep south of the province, receives sunshine 333 days of the year.
Nor is oil and gas expertise going to waste. Using seed money from Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta, a group of oil patch veterans formed Eavor Technologies to pursue geothermal energy.
Eavor is currently running a test site with technology that, according to Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, may “work almost anywhere in the world [and] scale to very large projects.” The technology has attracted $40-million in investment from sources including oil majors BP and Chevron and has found potential customers in the US, Japan and Germany.
An important factor in boosting renewables is support from businesses and other institutions that contribute to projects and then source electricity directly from them in order to offset use of fossil fuels elsewhere. 2021 saw a record number of such deals.
The Alberta government has trouble taking its eyes off oil; nonetheless, the province’s fully deregulated electricity market simplifies access to the grid, making this the easiest place in the country to develop renewables.
So Alberta isn’t all bitumen and greenhouse gas emissions. Its ample expertise and entrepreneurship increasingly finds more constructive outlets.