Dan Balaban, co-founder and CEO of Greengate, a leading renewable energy developer based in Calgary, discusses the rapid development of renewable energy in Canada, with some of the greatest momentum being seen in one of the most unexpected places: Alberta, the heart of oil country.
Alberta has long been synonymous with energy, its roots rich in oil and gas. Yet, the global energy transition, which is necessary to address the growing climate crisis, has fueled the discovery that what is above the ground – wind and solar – is also valuable just like the fossil fuels that lay below. Alberta’s abundant renewable resources, deregulated electricity market and robust carbon pricing provide a unique opportunity to diversify the economy as we move to a net-zero future.
But the reality is that it’s not just Alberta – Canada as a whole is transitioning to a net-zero future. With climate change and energy security both urgent issues that need to be addressed, net zero is the destination we need to reach. Canada’s renewable energy sector is growing, despite the polarization and politicization that exist across the country. If we are going to achieve our true potential, we need to get past it. We aren’t going to meet our ambitious climate goals without massive effort and support, soon.
We’re living through an unprecedented time of record-setting wildfires – the worst in Canadian history – with devastating impacts, orange skies and poor air quality experienced across the continent. Do we really want this to be our new reality? The need for a greener, cleaner future is more dire than ever, yet our country remains divided on how we get there. The federal government has set an ambitious climate goal for Canada, but it seems to thus far be all talk and no action. Meanwhile, my home province is digging its heels in against a federal net-zero grid by 2035 goal despite the demonstrated environmental and economic benefits. It’s disappointing that we continue to debate this issue despite the need for urgent action.
There are lessons to be learned from Alberta as the country works toward achieving our climate goals. As one of the first places in North America where commercial-scale wind energy was developed, Alberta was an early adopter of renewables. However, it was the introduction of the Renewable Electricity Program under Rachel Notley’s government (2015 – 2019) that became a catalyst for the tremendous growth in renewables we are seeing today. This program offered long-term government contracts to renewables projects under a competitive bidding process. Resulting in astonishingly low pricing, this ignited a fresh narrative that renewables can be delivered very cost-effectively in Alberta.
Following Notley’s tenure, Jason Kenney’s government (2019 – 2022) maintained our energy-only electricity market and continued with our strong industrial carbon pricing regime. This led to the emergence of corporate renewable procurement in Alberta with some of the leading companies in the world such as Amazon and Microsoft now seeing the ‘Alberta Advantage’ and buying renewable energy directly from Alberta-based projects, enabling some of the largest technology sector investments in our province’s history.
Today, we’re seeing governments around the world taking steps to incentivize the transition to net zero. The Canadian federal government announced the Clean Technology Investment Tax Credit in the Fall 2022 Economic Statement and re-announced it in the Spring 2023 budget – what I believe could be the most significant piece of federal government support announced in my over 16 years in the industry. However, we continue to wait for the final details of the program. If we are going to meet our net-zero goals, we need to move beyond talk and into immediate action on this incentive. This has the potential to position Canada as a very competitive place for renewable energy and net-zero investment going forward, which is crucial if Canada is to meet its goal of a net-zero grid by 2035.
Danielle Smith was just elected as Alberta’s premier but she has made it clear that she will fight Ottawa on the net-zero grid by 2035 goal. Alberta has tremendous renewable energy potential yet the government of Canada’s most emissions-intensive province continues to push back against the inevitable. Yes, a net-zero grid by 2035 is a highly ambitious target, but we should absolutely go for it, for the sake of the climate but also for the sake of the economy. I believe that pushing back on this works against our ultimate interests of ensuring we have a robust Alberta economy today and into the future. A clean grid and economic diversification go hand in hand.
From an economic standpoint, there is no denying the opportunity that exists. We’re seeing increased electrification across the economy in transportation, buildings and heavy industry, ultimately creating more demand for power – a demand that renewable energy is ready to meet. Over the last several years, Alberta has been leading the way when it comes to attracting top-tier international partners to invest in our province’s renewables sector. Renewable energy is also positive for municipalities where projects are developed – for example, Vulcan County, Alberta where solar and wind projects now account for more than 40 percent of the local tax base. It’s great news for the economy and has created thousands of jobs and generated billions of dollars of private sector investment.
Achieving a net-zero grid by 2035 requires massive effort and support behind it. We need to move beyond talk and into action – quickly. By working together, we can accelerate the pace of the necessary change, realize our full renewable energy potential and drive positive outcomes for the environment, the economy and the entire country. For the sake of the climate and the sake of the economy, we shouldn’t be politicizing renewable energy – we need to get on with it.