By Lloyd Wipf
In the wake of low oil prices in yet another market downturn, investment in alternative energy sources may be Alberta and Canada’s only hope to secure a stable future in energy development.
Premiere Jim Prentice has talked a lot about diversification, and how the government can wean itself from the dependency on oil revenue, but what he never talks about is how we can wean ourselves not just from oil revenue, but oil in general.
The green energy sector of the Canadian economy is booming and now employs more people than the oil sands in Fort MacMurray. About $25 billion has been invested in Canada’s clean-energy sector in the past five years, and employment is up 37 per cent, according to a report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada. The report released in December 2014, titled Tracking the Energy Revolution, found that of 23,700 people who work in green energy organizations outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands, the report said.
Clean Energy Canada says the industry’s growth has been accelerated by supportive policies in a handful of provinces. However, despite its increased importance to the national economy, “clean energy is still not a priority in Ottawa,” Merran Smith said, director of Clean Energy Canada in a Globe and Mail article.
“Government backing is crucial for this industry as it has been for our other strategic industries,” Smith said. “Every major industrial sector in Canada – from the aerospace industry to the oil sands – has gotten off the ground with support from the federal government. But in the clean-energy sector, the federal government is really missing in action.”
The report said that provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan which are highly reliant on non-renewable energy sources should follow Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia in getting into the renewable-energy game.
“The necessity for this shift is beginning to gain some traction,” said Smith. She noted that Finance minister Robin Campbell has stated that, “(Alberta) needs to get of the oil train.”
Shifting our efforts to more renewable sources of energy has the support of 79 per cent of Albertans who, when polled by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Wind Energy Association in July of 2014, agreed the province hasn’t done enough to support the industry.
“We would like to see the provincial strategy recognize the opportunity and the value of renewable energy,” said Tim Weis, policy director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association. “Wind is one of the lowest-cost technologies and it can deliver emissions reductions,” he said. “So we’re really well-positioned to deliver on the low cost and emissions reductions, but the current market works against renewables.”
Alberta is expected to unveil an updated climate change strategy, and has tentatively hinted at introducing an alternative and renewable energy framework, but hasn’t given away many details prior to its release.
“Without a renewable energy framework there will still be barriers to clean energy development – despite the fact that Alberta has some of the country’s most reliable renewable energy resources with solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydro capacity,” said Weis.