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.   

Syncrude’s Mildred Lake plant, located in the Athabasca Oil Sands. The area in Northern Alberta contains the third-largest oil reserves in the world. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

“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.” 

Catherine Abreu, centre, and Lauren Latour, right, of Climate Action Network Canada speak in 2019 on the need for federal parties to work together on climate change policies. PHOTO: CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK CANADA

Clean Energy Canada projects that renewable energy will create nearly 560,000 jobs for Canadians by 2030. These jobs include maintaining wind farms, manufacturing electric busses, insulating homes and installing solar energy panels. 

Lauren Latour, the climate ambition coordinator for the climate action network, explains that it will take time to transition smoothly to renewables. 

“We are not leaving workers and communities who have been so fossil fuel-based or -reliant behind during this transition,” she says. 

“Alberta is really uniquely placed from a geographic standpoint to be able to reap the benefits of alternative, renewable, cleaner energy sources.”

Darryl Kaminski, the president of Solar Alberta, hopes to further develop different forms of renewable energy in Alberta, leading to a decrease in the divide between those working in renewable energy and non-renewables. 

“Alberta has just about every form of renewable energy that one could think of,” Kaminski explains. 

“I can see us working more closely with other local and national organizations to help show that Alberta can be both diversified, and inclusive while helping Canada meet its international climate commitments.” 

Abreu recognizes that Alberta has been a large provider to Canadian energy production, and believes that it  is now readily available to begin the transition to renewable energy.  

“The reality about Alberta is that it has been an energy powerhouse for quite a long time,” Abreu says. 

“It still can be an energy powerhouse by producing renewable energy, because there’s huge potential here for geothermal, wind and solar energy in Alberta.”

“Southern Alberta in particular is such a great market [although] there are a lot of misconceptions about warmth versus actual production,” says Alex Tyndale, founding partner of Solar YYC, a Calgary-based solar energy contractor.

“We have very blue skies here in Southern Alberta, which is perfect for solar energy usage.”  

According to a November 2020 article by solar engineer Aniket Bhor, solar energy is one of the best tools to combat climate change. In 2014,  22,000 GWh of renewable solar energy was created in the United States, which avoided the creation of 17.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.  

“Germany was the greatest contributor in that year with 29 [million tons]  avoided, and over 35,000 GWh produced,” writes Bhor.

Comparably, in 2015, Canada produced 3,000 GWh of solar energy, accounting for just 0.5 per cent of its total energy sources that year.

Alex Lovink, the managing director of Versatile Energy Solutions, a solar and renewable energy proprietor, says he is proud of where Alberta is heading with regards to utilizing clean energy sources.

“Some may believe too slowly,” he says. “Change takes time and education and that’s what is happening now in Alberta.” 

Solar panels on the roof of a home in the Northwest Calgary community of Rocky Ridge. The neighbourhood has incorporated an eco-community called EchoHaven, which includes 25 houses that are testing out green technologies like solar energy. PHOTO: KEANNA RAPIN

Latour reiterates the important role Alberta has in the eventual transition to renewables, despite its storied history with oil and gas.

“We [as a province] have a responsibility to the global community to make sure that we’re doing our part and that we are reducing our emissions by our fair share,” she says. 

“Although [Canada is] a small country in terms of population, we have a [large] impact on our global energy systems, and our emissions.” 

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