The potential of alternate energy sources in Alberta is as uncertain as the weather — because the provincial government has failed to expand its vision by providing concrete support for new initiatives.
In fact, some uncertainty seems to be a function of the business of generating and delivering electricity — particularly in Alberta.
Part of that is the result of the infrastructure we have come to rely on, and part is the result of a provincial government that has been sluggish in its ability or willingness to invest in alternate sources of power.
The government has fixated on establishing massive new transmission lines to deliver electricity to markets, based on a generating system that seems married to traditional methods.
Smaller, non-traditional generating facilities closer to large power users could significantly reduce the need for massive, intrusive new power lines.
Alberta remains the only province in the nation that does not provide subsidies for wind-generating initiatives. Our green energy strategy is based more on platitudes than action.
Almost a year ago, premier Stelmach told a Red Deer audience that his government is dedicated to developing resources (both conventional and alternatives like wind, biomass, solar and geothermal power). He trumpeted that Alberta was the leading wind generating province at the time.
Critics suggest otherwise. Since the end of 2008, Alberta has lost ground to Ontario as a wind-generating centre, according to David Huggill of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, and more ground will be lost without far more aggressive initiatives here. The Quebec government, for example, is bearing 60 per cent of the cost of any new wind farm projects.
Electricity is a finicky commodity. It is dependent on other fuel sources for its generation; difficult and expensive to transmit; and impossible to store in any significant amounts.
In addition, power generation in Alberta contributes significantly to our carbon footprint.
Of the total 12,834-megawatt capacity of the generating system in the province, 5,692 megawatts come from coal, 5,189 megawatts come from natural gas, 900 megawatts are the product of hydro electric turbines, 657 comes from wind, 323 is generated through biomass, 63 comes from waste heat and 10 megawatts are generated by fuel oil.
An overwhelming 85 per cent of Alberta’s electricity capacity is generated from non-renewable sources, and contributes mightily to our carbon dioxide emissions.
A total of 59 projects using renewable energy sources have been proposed, according to the province, and they will have the capacity to generate 9,277 megawatts of power. That would represent 72 per cent of our current capacity.
Among those are wind turbines for Central Alberta, and the Plasco project that intends to convert waste into gas to fuel electric generators.
Wind energy carries uncertainties: it is costly to establish and it is subject to the variances in the weather.
So, too, does solar generation carry a caveat: the sun must shine. In each case, a backup system must be in place.
But Alberta still needs to invest both in the existing alternatives like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and gasification and to start pushing into new areas.
“We are moving towards being the most diversified province in Canada,” Stelmach said almost a year ago.
It’s time to power up that promise with money and action.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.