By Kelly Matheson-King
Did you know Alberta was the first province in Canada to develop commercial wind energy… and over two decades ago?
As a lifelong Albertan it is not surprising to me that innovative Albertan farmers and ranchers were the pioneers of wind energy in Canada. These innovators were looking for ways to decrease power costs and impacts on the environment. The first wind turbines in Alberta were focused on powering individual farms, but these pioneers quickly saw the opportunity to develop this form of energy on a larger scale. They saw how wind energy is compatible with farming and ranching operations and how it can be a stable and predictable source of income for families through boom and bust cycles.
Wind turbines, and the people who operate them, have been good neighbours in rural Alberta communities for over 20 years – there are 760 operating wind turbines in Alberta today (with more under construction), operating side-by-side with agricultural and other energy operations.
Alberta is blessed with an abundance of energy resources, including both fossil fuels and renewable. While oil and gas development plays an important role in our economy, and will continue to for some time, the development of renewable resources alongside our non-renewable resources is the best way to hedge against short and long-term environmental (climate change) and energy price risks. A diverse energy sector and diverse economy is most resilient for Alberta.
The vast majority of people take electricity for granted; the lights will go on when we flip the switch. We rarely think about what is behind the switch, where the power is coming from. Alberta Energy reports about 41% of Alberta’s installed electricity generation capacity is from coal and almost 40% from natural gas. Complimenting these fossil-fuel sources, as of November 2013, is over 1,100 megawatts of wind energy installed, almost 8% of the total generation capacity in Alberta. Wind is an important component of Alberta’s electricity supply mix as it contributes to the diversification of Alberta’s electricity supply in a sustainable, low-impact way. There is no shortage of further opportunities to expand wind power development in Alberta providing affordable stable-priced clean electricity.
What further excites me is Alberta’s opportunity to develop our solar and hydroelectric resources. Although new hydroelectric generation has not been built in Alberta in decades, many opportunities to responsibly develop our hydroelectric resources remain untapped. And continued advancements and cost efficiencies in solar power technology may one day make Alberta’s sunny skies its most valuable energy resource yet.
Unfortunately Alberta’s story as a renewable energy pioneer is not well known. Given the global media coverage of Alberta’s oilsands industry, maybe a bit more encouragement and focus on our renewable energy story is in order. Because it is a good story, one that we are all proud to be a part of at BluEarth. And of course, with strong leadership and policy from our government, Alberta’s clean energy story only stands to improve, and maybe, one day, Albertans can be recognized globally for our renewable energy innovation and leadership.