The Glass is Now ‘Half-Full’ on Renewable Energy in Alberta

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  • March 6, 2014

March 6, 2014

By Marlo Raynolds, VP – Market Development 011

Over the past few weeks a number of people, interested in renewable energy, have asked me whether the rumblings about Alberta picking up its game on renewable energy are real.

In my almost 20 years of working on energy issues in Alberta, I have not seen this level of political interest in renewable energy policy.

True, I am a perpetual optimist, but two very important moves by the Alberta government justify my current optimism:

  1. The creation of the cabinet post of Associate Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy; and
  2. The Throne Speech making mention of renewable energy.

Some might say that a mention in the Throne Speech is, well, just lip service. Maybe. But maybe not.

The language, at a minimum, commits the Alberta Government to having a deeper and more meaningful conversation  and ultimately delivering a renewable energy process in the province:

“Your government will also work to diversify Alberta’s own domestic energy mix, and will introduce an alternative and renewable energy framework that empowers consumers to exercise choice within the market-based electricity system.”

Developing a “renewable energy framework” has been discussed for over four years, but until now, no action has been taken. Now we have a commitment to complete it, and in order for consumers to choose renewable energy, there actually has to be new facilities built.

Most importantly there is a new cabinet position and a very experienced and talented individual – Donna Kennedy-Glans – taking on this challenge. For the first time we have a Minister that wakes up every morning and is thinking about electricity, oh and renewables to boot. In having met with Minister Kennedy-Glans, she is very serious about taking on the portfolio, and what a challenge it will be!

The challenge lies in how to make Alberta an attractive place for investment in renewable electricity projects. Currently, other jurisdictions across Canada are more attractive and as a result capture billions of dollars of global investment in the sector.

The key to bringing renewable power investment to Alberta is creating an electricity market which rewards longer-term commitments for zero-emission sources of power. The current market fails to adequately reflect the environmental values of renewable energy – zero greenhouse gas emissions, zero local air pollution and reduced water consumption.

Our market also provides very few opportunities for long-term certainty on electricity pricing, whereas most other jurisdictions do. Without price certainty, getting project financing is very challenging.

An Alberta renewable energy framework should pursue two paths:

  1. A market-based price signal to reflect the full long-term value of renewable energy
  2. Setting an environmental performance standard on electricity leading to a minimum amount of new renewable energy that diversifies our power system

It is not going to be an easy road as there are many entrenched interests in the current system. But the prize is literally billions of dollars of investment, diversification of our energy economy, rural economic development and a much cleaner power system.

As a province, we have taken on big energy policy challenges in the past, which have attracted billions of dollars of investment. Now is the time to fill the glass and attract investment into our renewable energy resources.