In April, Alberta, Canada, will elect a new provincial government. Many may be unaware that the current NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley has adopted a globally significant climate plan. Here is what's in it, what it has done, and what is at stake next month.
First, where did Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan plan come from? (George Soros, perhaps? Foreign-funded radicals?) No. It came from Albertans. A panel led by Andrew Leach spoke with 1,000 residents in-person and heard from more than 25,000 online.
The panel also engaged with more than 350 stakeholders and met with Aboriginal peoples in three cities, and received hundreds of detailed submissions from non-government organizations, industry groups and others.
The plan, released in November 2015, focuses on four priorities: Eliminate coal power by 2030; Price climate pollution with a meaningful and rising carbon price; Cap oilsands emissions at 100 megatonnes (MT) per year, and; Slash dangerous methane emissions 45 per cent by 2025.
A few months later, the province also committed to ensure that renewables would make up at least 30 per cent of the grid by 2030, then legislated that target. But wait, renewables are "uneconomic," right? Wrong.
Alberta wind power is cheaper than new natural gas
Alberta’s first round of competitive, private-sector clean power auctions, in December 2017, revealed wind to be the cheapest source of new electricity in Canada. When complete, the new projects will power a quarter million Alberta homes.
Again, the average power purchase contract price per megawatt-hour of wind pencilled out lower than the price of recent new Canadian natural-gas fossil fuel plants. Wind is a relative bargain, and unlike gas plants, wind does not contribute greenhouse gas pollution.
On more recent wind energy contracts, companies will invest approximately $1.2 billion in the province for five projects. Each will have 25 per cent Indigenous ownership. Together, they will have the capacity to generate enough carbon-free electricity to power approximately 300,000 houses per year.
Alberta has also increased solar power production fivefold under the climate plan, and contracted three new solar farms dedicated to cleanly powering half of all government’s operations (wind will power the other half). Albertans have energized about 3,100 solar installations to date.
Alberta policy is cleaning its power grid
Is it helping? Well, in 2014, when I co-authored (with Ben Thibault) the Pembina/Clean Energy Canada report “Power to Change” report, Alberta had the most polluting grid in Canada. Some 18 coal power units produced more than 60 per cent of the province’s electricity.
Wherever you are, if you care about the climate, you should watch next month's Alberta election, writes @jamesglave. And if you live in Alberta, please keep these considerations in mind when you head to the polls.
But as of 2018, coal delivered less than half of Alberta’s electricity. In two years, power sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions plunged seven megatonnes, or 16 per cent. This was mostly natural gas replacing coal, but the direction is clear.
The province also launched Energy Efficiency Alberta, a public energy efficiency agency. Its programs have so far saved individual Albertans a collective $510 million, and slashed energy use by the equivalent of an amount that would power 1.2 million homes for one year.
What about coal workers? The carbon price is also funding a just transition program that provides financial, employment, and retraining support for coal workers and coal-reliant communities impacted by the province's energy transition.
Transit? Carbon price revenue has funded expansions of 17 municipal transit systems, including 15 new light rail vehicles in Calgary, and 28 new electric buses in Edmonton. And the largest off-grid solar project in an Indigenous community in Canada.
According to the most recent Climate Leadership Plan progress report, in 2017-18 the province re-invested $1.2 billion of carbon pricing revenue back into Alberta’s economy. Of this, the province sent about 40 per cent ($487 million) straight back to Albertans via rebates or tax cuts.
The government invested 60 per cent (about $700 million) in more than 50 climate leadership programs and policies. These supported more than 5,000 jobs. By 2021, the province projects these investments will yield more than 52MT of cumulative GHG reductions.
If continued until 2030, Alberta’s latest modelling suggests the Climate Leadership Plan will head off the release of some 50 megatonnes of GHG pollution. That would have the same climate impact as removing nearly half the passenger cars driving on Canada’s roads today.
Kenney and the environment
Still with me? Good. The opposition United Conservative Party, led by Jason Kenney, hopes to sweep the polls next month. Kenney has promised voters he will scrap both the carbon price and Energy Efficiency Alberta.
In February, Kenney said, if elected, his government would “no longer provide subsidies to uneconomic wind and solar power generation...” Despite the evidence to the contrary proven out in his own province, he called these projects “uneconomic.”
Now, is the province’s climate plan perfect? No. Its biggest flaw, by far, is its treatment of the province’s oilsands, a globally significant petroleum resource. Last year, Barry Saxifrage analyzed the plan's oilsands cap in a story in the National Observer.
He concluded the cap still allows industry emissions to soar to 115 Mt. This would consume nearly a quarter of Canada's target under the Paris Agreement. (My take: Though stricter oilsands GHG limits are scientifically necessary, they appear to be politically impossible.)
The Climate Leadership Plan also promised to slash methane emissions - invisible leaks from pipes and natural gas wells, and routine industry venting. Unfortunately, on that front the government has done not nearly enough. It’s a huge missed opportunity.
Albertans understand the risks of climate change. They have felt impacts first hand, in the catastrophic 2013 flooding of downtown Calgary. Three years later, the Horse River fire devastated the oil sands community of Fort McMurray, forcing 80,000 to flee.
Wherever you are, if you care about the climate, you should watch this election. And if you live in Alberta, please keep these considerations in mind when you head to the polls on April 16. Thank you!