(File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Is oil and gas reliant Red Deer ready for a change?

Rene Michalak says a transition towards alternative energy is possible

Red Deer has among the most fossil fuel-reliant economies in the country, according to the results of a recent study.

With 4,300 city residents working in the oil and gas sector, Red Deer follows Wood Buffalo (with 14,200 workers) and Grande Prairie (4,500 workers) in the top-three Canadian communities with the most oil and gas industry workers, reveals a study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The same report shows that 7.5 per cent of Red Deer’s workforce is connected to the fossil fuel industry. On a per capital basis, this means this city ranks 10th of Canadian centres with economic ties to the oil and gas sector. Sylvan Lake, with 14.2 per cent of its population working in oil and gas, is fifth (after Wood Buffalo, Cold Lake, Lloydminster, and Estevan, Sask).

With so much local reliance on an industry that’s been struggling, Red Deer resident Rene Michalak believes it’s important to gradually diversify our local economy.


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Fossil fuels “are our existing way of life. You can’t just dump and jump to something else,” said Michalak, a project leader with ReThink Red Deer. But while he feels “there needs to be respect given to where we got our wealth,” Michalak believes “a transition can be navigated.”

He’s the new Red Deer branch manager for Newo Global Energy, a non-profit that’s giving Red Deer’s unemployed or under-employed oil and gas workers opportunities to transition to working in the alternative energy field.

The Camrose-based non-profit, with links to indigenous communities, offers retraining courses for oilfield workers interested in transitioning into the solar design and installation field.

Michalak admitted job opportunities in solar energy now lie in Calgary or Edmonton. But he believes Central Alberta’s solar energy industry is growing and will keep expanding, through entrepreneurship, as the cost of solar energy panels continue to drop.

Newo is a supporter of the Pace program. If approved by the Alberta government, it will allow loans for the cost of energy efficient improvements to homes to be rolled into annual property taxes for a period of up to 25 years. That means once a house is sold, repayment becomes the new home owner’s responsibility, said Michalak, who believes this will stimulate more people to consider environmentally friendly home energy options.

More information is available from www.newo.energy/ or from rethinkreddeer.ca.

The next ReThink Red Deer event is the March 24 EcoLiving Fair at the Red Deer College forum. Michalak said a couple dozen vendors will present a variety of innovations, including electric bicycles. Check out the website for workshop topics.


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