The Edmonton Journal covers our latest report, Power to Change: How Alberta Can Green Its Grid and Embrace Clean Energy. Here’s the original article by Sheila Pratt:
Alberta could cut its greenhouse gas emissions almost by half by shutting down its coal-fired power plants, a move that would make room for more oilsands production.
“If we want to expand the oilsands, coal is the place to cut down carbon emissions,” say Ben Thibault of the Pembina Institute, which released a new report, Power to Change, written with Vancouver-based think-tank Clean Energy Canada.
Alberta’s 19 coal plants produce as much greenhouse gas as the major oilsands producers, though the oilsands are often targeted in the province’s battle to reduce its share of carbon emissions.
Alberta — which gets 63 per cent of its electric power from coal — burns more coal than the rest of Canada combined, the report notes.
A large-scale shift away from coal to a variety of electricity sources including solar, wind, and geothermal power, could be accomplished in 20 years with only a slight price increase in the first decade and then cheaper prices starting in the second decade, said Thibault.
That’s because Alberta is uniquely suited for renewable energy, with the most hours of sunshine in the country and more reliable winds than any other province, says the report.
The government must introduce some tools to help to kick-start the renewable energy sector, said Thibault, but Alberta remains the only province without a renewable energy strategy.
The government has promised a plan sometime this year and the Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada hope their report will play a role in its development.
“The report shows Alberta can make that shift away from coal, but there has to be leadership from government,” said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, which is working for a low-carbon future.
Without a new clean energy strategy, the province did not attract any of the $6.4 billon invested in the renewable energy industry in Canada in the last few years, she added.
The report calculates that under a large-scale shift to renewable energy, power prices would climb by 6.3 per cent by 2023. But ten years later, the price would be four per cent lower than it will be under continued fossil fuel generation.
Alberta’s electricity producers are planning to build new natural-gas-fired plants to replace a few aging coal plants — a move that will reduce carbon emissions and air pollution that comes with coal. Edmonton’s Capital Power has plans for new gas plants at Genesee, for instance.
While natural gas is cleaner than coal, the volatility of the price of that fuel makes it risky for consumers, said Thibault.
For consumers, the better, cheapest route for power in the long run is wind, solar or geothermal power with no ongoing fuel cost, he said.
A shift away from coal might be challenging for the province’s longtime coal power companies, but that industry is undergoing change across North American, said Smith.
“Business changes; look at the U.S.” she said.
In fact, some of Alberta’s power companies already operate in places where they are required to provide a certain percentage of their power from green sources — called a green portfolio standard.
It’s a tool Alberta should consider, Smith said.
Ontario phased out its coal plants as of this year.
Under recent federal regulations, Alberta’s coal plants must retire after 50 years of operation, which means coal plants will operate until 2062.