Alberta's electricity system will have to change drastically if the province is to meet the targets outlined under the government's new climate change strategy, a move the province says will happen steadily over the next 15 years.
"It is no secret that our climate leadership plan lays out a significant challenge for our electricity industry," Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said.
"But it is a challenge we can rise to, together."
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McCuaig-Boyd said 17 per cent of Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions stem from electricity generation and the majority of those emissions come from coal-fired power plants.
She reiterated the government's pledge to eliminate coal as a source of electricity altogether by 2030 and also pledged that renewable sources will provide "up to" 30 per cent of Alberta's electricity by that same year.
"Nothing will happen overnight," she said. "Transition will be gradual and prudent, allowing for time to plan."
'Very high bar'
Scott Thon, CEO of AltaLink, said the 30-per-cent renewable target "sets a very high bar for other resource-rich regions around the globe to try to stretch and reach."
Thon believes the target is achievable through a combination of wind and solar power, backed up by natural gas.
"Alberta, if you've done any research, has one of the best wind and solar resources in North America," he said. "So we are ideally suited to take advantage of capitalizing on renewable energy."
Thon also said new techniques for electricity storage, which he described as a "rapidly improving technology," will help provide supply stability to the overall system in the future.
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the province will appoint an "independent facilitator and negotiator" to help Alberta transition away from coal generation.
The plan also involves the use of "market mechanisms, such as auctioning," to keep the cost of renewable energy as low as possible, and financial support for workers in the coal sector to retrain for new jobs.
Funding for some of these initiatives will come from the revenue generated by the new carbon tax, according to the government's plan.
"We are not the first jurisdiction to phase out coal-fired electricity," Phillips said.
She noted places like Iowa, Kansas, and even the western United Kingdom — "ground zero" for the coal industry for the past two centuries — are abandoning the fossil fuel for power generation.