Alberta’s ‘Quiet’ Transition to Renewables Moves Faster than Planned

This article was originally published in The Energy Mix on January 3, 2022.

Alberta’s quiet transition to renewable energy from coal is moving faster than planned—fast enough that the province could hit its target of generating 30% of its electricity from renewables seven years ahead of its 2030 target.

“Renewables have gone from being a bit of a novelty in the province to something that has economic importance,” said Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary.

In 2020, Alberta produced 14% of its power from renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydro, with those technologies accounting for 23% of installed capacity. With growing investments in the sector, the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) projects that total rising to 26% by 2023 and sees the province adding “significant” solar capacity—around 1,200 megawatts—within the next two years, CBC News reports.

A recent Royal Bank report predicts continued renewables growth in Alberta, noting that 61 solar projects now under development across the province are expected to be complete by the middle of the decade.

“We believe Alberta is well positioned to attract more investments of this type and size in the years ahead,” the report says.

According to Shaffer, the fast pace of renewables development is being spurred by the phaseout of coal power and falling costs for renewables projects.

“If you were following news about five years ago, you’d associate renewables with high costs and big subsidies,” he said. “That’s really not the case anymore. It’s profitable now to build renewables.”

The Calgary-based gas distribution company ATCO is also buying into the transition. It has purchased the rights to two solar projects in southeast Calgary as well as a smaller installation in Empress, Alberta. Karen Nielsen, ATCO’s managing director of global renewables, said she isn’t surprised by the pace of the transition. The demand for clean energy is rising “as companies and businesses have to fulfil their obligation,” she said, “whether it’s a net-zero commitment, or a commitment just to do their part in terms of the broader climate change strategies.”

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