Analysis: Renewables are key to Alberta’s energy future
Alberta is a province that can feel deeply divided when it comes to discussing climate change.
The oil and gas industry still provides many jobs and opinions on climate change here are significantly different compared to the rest of the country. Meanwhile, Statistics Canada reports that employment in the natural resources sector has plummeted 7.3 per cent — the steepest decrease ever recorded — in the second quarter of 2020.
Increasingly, it feels as if Alberta is divided between people tied to the energy status quo and those who feel the province needs to move quickly toward a low-carbon future. But experts and activists say Alberta’s abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources make it poised to be a leader in renewable energy.
Specifically for Canada, Alberta’s geographical location is ideal for a transition to renewables like solar energy — which has the potential to bring new jobs to the province.
A statistics piece by the provincial government about Alberta’s oil sands notes that they have “the third largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.”
The federal government plans for Canada to be at net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning the economy will either remove or offset all greenhouse gas emissions.
This decision will directly impact Alberta. In 2019, just over 100,000 direct jobs were added in mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction in Alberta alone — half of the total number of jobs added in the industry throughout Canada that year. The phasing out of this industry would threaten the loss of many of these jobs.
“Given that, there’s a desire to see that industry continue to provide some of the prosperity and jobs that it has provided in the past,” Abreu says.
“[These] are workers who are just trying to figure out how they [can] continue to feed their families.”
With jobs on the line, caught between political and economic factors surrounding oil and gas and renewable energy, there is tension between climate change activists, governments within Canada and oil and gas workers.
Sarah Flynn, a Calgary-based member of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, has seen the divide first hand in Alberta. She says that this divide is largely created by fear of moving to renewables, as the oil and gas industry has been profitable for many years.
“They don’t want other people to have a chance to get a piece of the energy pie,” Flynn says. “[But eventually], the transition will need to happen.”