Why Alberta is changing into Canada’s renewable power capital


Alberta has seen an enormous enhance in company funding in renewable power since 2019, and capability from these offers is ready to extend output by two gigawatts —  sufficient to energy roughly 1.5 million houses. 

“Our evaluation reveals $3.7 billion price of renewables development by 2023 and 4,500 jobs,” Nagwan Al-Guneid, the director of Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada, says. 

The centre is an initiative of the environmental assume tank Pembina Institute and supplies training and steering for corporations trying to spend money on renewable power or power offsets throughout Canada. Its membership is made up of renewable power corporations.

The addition of two gigawatts is over two instances the quantity of renewable power added to the grid between 2010 and 2017, in line with the Canadian Vitality Regulator. 

“That is pushed straight by what we name energy buy agreements,” Al-Guneid says. “We now have corporations from throughout the nation coming to Alberta.”

To this point this 12 months, 191 megawatts of renewable power shall be added by buy agreements, in line with the Enterprise Renewables Centre. 

Alberta’s electrical energy system is exclusive in Canada — an open market the place corporations can ink offers straight with non-public energy producers to purchase a set quantity of electrical energy produced annually, both to be used or for offset credit. The monetary safety offered by these contracts helps producers construct out extra renewable tasks with out market dangers. Purchasers get low cost renewable power or credit to satisfy inner or exterior emissions objectives. 

It differs from different provinces the place there’s a monopoly, usually government-owned, on energy provide. 

In these provinces, funding in renewables largely is determined by whether or not the corporate with the monopoly is in a shopping for temper, says Blake Shaffer, an economics professor on the College of Calgary who research electrical energy markets. 

That’s not the case in Alberta, the place the one actual regulatory hurdle is making use of to attach a mission to the grid.

“As soon as that’s permitted, you may simply go forward and construct it, and you’ll promote it,” Shaffer says.

That form of flexibility has attracted some large investments, together with two offers with Amazon in 2021 to buy 455 megawatts price of photo voltaic power from Calgary-based Greengate Energy. There are additionally large investments from oil corporations trying to offset emissions.

The investments are permitting Alberta to decarbonize its grid, largely with the backing of the non-public sector. 

Shaffer says Alberta is the “renewables capital in Canada.”

“That simply shocks individuals due to course their affiliation with Alberta is nothing about renewables, however oil and gasoline,” Shaffer says. “However it actually is the funding centre for renewables in the complete nation proper now.”

Alberta has ‘embarrassing’ riches in wind power and solar energy

It’s not simply the market that’s driving Alberta’s renewables increase. Based on Shaffer there are three different key elements: a humiliation of wind and photo voltaic riches, the necessity to transition away from a historically soiled, coal-reliant grid and the present excessive prices of power. 

Shaffer says the robust and seemingly continuous winds coming off the foothills of the Rockies within the southwest of the province imply every turbine produces extra power in comparison with different areas. The identical is true for photo voltaic, with an abundance of sunny days.

“Southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan have one of the best photo voltaic insolation,” he says. “You set a panel in Vancouver, otherwise you put a panel in Drugs Hat, and also you’re gonna get about 50 per cent extra power out of that panel in Drugs Hat, and so they’re gonna value you an identical.”

The spark that set off the surge in investments wasn’t strictly an open-market mechanism. Beneath the earlier NDP authorities, the province introduced in a program that allowed non-public producers to compete for presidency contracts.

The federal government agreed to a sure worth and the producers had been then allowed to promote their electrical energy on the open market. If the worth dropped under what was assured, the province would pay the distinction. If, nonetheless, the worth was greater, the builders would pay the distinction to the federal government. 

Nagwan Al-Guneid, the director of Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada, says company contracts with non-public power builders are driving a surge in Alberta’s renewable power capability. Picture: Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada

This system was a hit — Shaffer says the federal government made cash off of it — and demonstrated simply how low cost that electrical energy may very well be.

“This kicked off the surge of consumers searching for to buy renewable power as a result of trade noticed how good of a deal the federal government acquired for Albertans,” Al-Guneid says. “As soon as that was achieved, the non-public sector picked up the ball and ran with it.”

The present United Conservative authorities ended this system in 2019, however Shaffer says the void has been utterly crammed by the non-public sector. Emissions targets and carbon pricing are additionally driving corporations to spend money on renewables. 

However the present surge in renewable investments doesn’t imply there aren’t challenges forward, or a job for presidency intervention.

Success and targets convey challenges for Alberta’s renewable power

Dan Balaban is the CEO of Greengate Energy, a renewable power firm primarily based in Calgary and one of many founding members of Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada. His firm developed the most important wind farm in Canada and is constructing the most important photo voltaic farm — helped by that large contract from Amazon.

Balaban says provide chain points which have wracked virtually each a part of the financial system all through the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting the renewable power sector, too. He additionally says there must be extra funding — from authorities and the non-public sector — in each power storage and transmission strains if renewables are to succeed in bold objectives set by the federal authorities, together with the goal of a net-zero grid by 2035.

“The necessity to construct out new transmission infrastructure has historically been a really complicated and gradual course of, but when we’re going to maintain up with all of the demand that we’ve for renewables, and our must decarbonize our electrical energy system, we’ve to spend money on our infrastructure as effectively,” Balaban says.

He says Alberta has extra work forward than different provinces in decarbonizing its grid, attributable to a conventional reliance on fossil fuels, notably coal. 

“The 2035 purpose particularly could be very bold,” Balaban says. “So it’s nice that we’ve a purpose, however we have to again up that purpose with tangible help to get us there.”

Balaban desires to see higher tax breaks for net-zero applied sciences and the introduction of tax breaks for renewables, at the very least on par with the 50 per cent that was provided for carbon seize and storage within the final federal price range.  

The Canadian Renewable Vitality Affiliation says reaching net-zero by 2050 would require Canada to construct, on common, virtually 5.5 gigawatts of wind and photo voltaic capability yearly.

“We’re nowhere close to on monitor to try this,” Balaban says.

Authorities intervention can even be wanted for large strategic choices, together with constructing these transmission strains and presumably some large-scale storage, in line with Shaffer. 

A few of that storage capability shall be wanted to stop a surge in renewables from destroying the monetary incentive to construct them. If photo voltaic technology will increase dramatically, for instance, and all these panels surge on the similar time whereas the solar is at its brightest, that drives the worth of the electrical energy down and makes it unprofitable. Storage would enable that power to feed into the grid when wanted, quite than abruptly.

It’s a part of a nice stability, the place an excessive amount of success can create its personal bottlenecks. Al-Guneid, from Enterprise Renewables Centre Canada, is anxious that too many tasks coming in abruptly might decelerate regulatory approvals and impression the flexibility of corporations to succeed in their targets on time. 

Her group, which helps with that course of, has diminished the time it takes to approve an software from about 4 years to as little as a 12 months, she says.  

“So it’ll form of be that form of push and pull going ahead, however proper now, we’re positively in that section of simply constructing, constructing, constructing,” Shaffer says. 

“We’ll most likely begin to see a few of that congestion and worth melancholy creep in right here. However the factor that renewables have going for them is, at the same time as their worth form of diminishes the extra they get constructed, they’re simply so low cost proper now relative to the rest, particularly while you embrace their carbon prices.”



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