Albertans face a choice: continue to rely on the dirty, brown electricity technologies of the past, or diversify and develop the clean, green electricity technologies of the future.
Alberta’s current coal-based electricity system is becoming a liability. Albertans are responsible for four times more global warming pollution than other Canadians. Close to 25 per cent of Alberta’s carbon pollution comes from its electricity sector, not to mention the majority of mercury and other pollutants.
A new Pembina report, Greening the Grid, confirms that Alberta’s renewable energy resource is vast, and that Alberta could go from producing 70 per cent of its electricity from coal to producing 70 per cent from clean energy sources in just 20 years.
Using existing renewable technologies combined with cogeneration and improved efficiency, Alberta could satisfy rising demand for electricity without building a single new coal-fired power plant and could phase out plants already polluting the air. While there is enough wind in Alberta to meet the province’s electricity demands many times over, Alberta produces just two percent of its electricity from wind. Alberta is similarly rich with geothermal, biogas, biomass, low-impact hydro, district energy and solar power potential. Jurisdictions all over the world have proven these technologies are reliable when complemented with technologies like energy storage, virtual power plants, peaking plants and imports.
As President Obama has recognized, a diverse electricity system is not only good for the environment, but also for the economy. In Germany, renewable energy employed more than 215,000 people in 2007 and wind alone contributed $10 billion in export revenue. In one year Spain installed 3,500 megawatts of wind capacity, as much capacity as Alberta’s 10 largest coal plants.
Alberta has an incredible opportunity to transform its brown electricity system into the green, competitive system of the future. An excellent start would be for Premier Stelmach to establish a renewable energy task force to assess the role of renewables in Alberta. We’ve had task forces on nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. It’s time we look at the proven, clean technologies of renewable energy. This would signal to the world that Alberta is at least considering the possibility of diversifying the economy and cleaning up the grid using our vast renewable energy resources.
Tim Weis and Jeff Bell
The Pembina Institute
Tim Weis is the Director of Renewable Energy and Efficiency Policy and Jeff Bell is a Policy Analyst for the Alberta Energy Solutions team with the Pembina Institute. Their report, Greening the Grid, Powering Alberta’s Future With Renewable Energy, is available at www.pembina.org.