A pumpjack is commonplace in the rural fields of Alberta, but could wind turbines and solar panels be replacing them in the near future? Photo credit: G. Valcourt, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.
By Jasmine Pushak
After over 100 years of development in the fossil fuel industry, Alberta’s government has recently released a Climate Leadership Plan. The plan strives to significantly reduce the province’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2025—an ambitious goal for a province with both economic and energy dependencies on fossil fuels. Yet, the plan is necessary if Alberta is to meet the 2015 Paris Climate agreement to limit global warming by two degrees Celsius.
So, what exactly are the details of this plan and how do they affect Albertans?
Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan
The plan outlines four areas of improvement. First, coal will be gradually phased out and replaced by cleaner sources of power generation such as natural gas, wind or solar power. Burning coal, a carbon-intensive fossil fuel, has had a significant impact on the province’s ecological footprint. In August 2015, coal accounted for 38 per cent of Alberta’s power generation.
Next, the province aims to reduce its methane emissions by 45 per cent by “applying new emissions design standards to new Alberta facilities.” As natural gas will be replacing many coal generating stations, it is imperative to design these facilities with efficiency in mind. This will reduce emissions and be less expensive in the long run. Further, a Joint Initiative on Methane Reduction and Verification, consisting of energy industry groups, environmental groups and indigenous communities, will be responsible for monitoring these facilities’ emissions and ensuring requirements are met.
Third, a legislative limit will be placed on GHGs emitted from the development of the Alberta oil sands. This is an unprecedented limit that will replace the current method of “Specified Gas Emitter Regulation,” a levy unrelated to intensity of GHGs or efficiency of their operations, but based on a facility’s historical emissions. The cap of 100 mega tonnes per year should create incentive for producers to invest in high-performance technologies.
Finally, a new carbon levy will be introduced across all sectors in January 2017. This will be a huge influence in curbing Alberta’s fossil fuel dependencies. In fact, the government calls this approach “the backbone of any effective climate change strategy.” It is projected to cover 78 to 90 per cent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The levy will be $20 for every tonne of GHG over a facility’s reduction target. Revenue from the levy will be invested into the renewable energy industry.
Premier Rachel Notley tweeted about the levy while in attendance at the Pembina Institute’s unGala. The clean energy think-tank held the event on January 21, 2016 to commemorate Alberta’s sustainability sector.
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) January 22, 2016
What this means for us
So we can see how this plan will affect the energy industry, but what does that mean for us ordinary citizens? We’re likely to be spending more for our energy, relying as we do on fossil fuels for transportation, heating and electricity. As such, we’ll need to be more aware of our energy consumption habits.
Maclean’s Magazine writer Trevor Tombe looks at the possible implications of the carbon tax on Albertan households. His calculations are based on the 2017 tax of $30 per tonne and Statistics Canada data on household expenditures in 2014. Tombe estimates that the carbon tax will increase energy costs for median households by approximately $500 per year.
“This will be a burden for many,” he says, “but the government is committed to providing rebates to low and lower-middle income households.”
Albertans can also expect to see a push towards cleaner energy sources. In fact, the Alberta company Carbon Busters Homes has already begun design plans for an integrated sustainable community in Edmonton. Shanthu Mano and Godo Stoyke, the company’s founders, are designing the community to be as low carbon as possible by using both renewable energy and efficiency models. While integrating renewable energy is less costly when beginning from scratch, Carbon Busters also offers opportunities for improving existing buildings’ efficiency. Alberta’s future may one day hold many more green communities like this.
Although the shift away from non-renewable resources will not occur over night, Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan formally acknowledges the dangers of burning fossil fuels.