Sunday March 20, 2016

Renewable energy may be a challenge fit for Albertans

Wind turbines, part of TransAlta's Summerview operation, spin on a farmer's field in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

Wind turbines, part of TransAlta's Summerview operation, spin on a farmer's field in Pincher Creek, Alberta. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Last week, The 180 visited the town of Hanna, Alberta, where residents worry they're living in a town without a future. 

Hanna's coal-fired power plant has had an uncertain future since the release of the NDP's climate plan in November. Dean Girodat works at the mine that feeds the plant, and is worried about life after it closes — both in terms of his own ability to make a living, and the province's ability to power itself without coal.

But while coal power is on the way out in Alberta, wind is picking up. The Alberta government's plan sees renewable energy, like wind and solar, to provide up to 30 per cent of Alberta's electricity once coal is gone. The 180 visited a turbine farm near Pincher Creek, Alberta, where wind from the Rocky Mountains whips across the rolling foothills and ranch-land. 

Wayne Oliver, TransAlta

Wayne Oliver supervises TransAlta's wind operations in Pincher Creek, Alberta. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Wayne Oliver is the Operations Supervisor for the company TransAlta's wind operations in Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod. The company operates 412 turbines around around Pincher Creek.

If you consider that your fuel source is free, once you put up your tower, all you have to do is maintain it. Then, it's a great supplemental source of energy for the grid... of course, sometimes it's not windy. I don't know if wind will replace everything we have, but it's a great supplemental source of energy. -Wayne Oliver

So there's one of the challenges in bringing renewable energy up to 30% of Alberta's energy grid. Right now, wind turbines provide 4% of Alberta's electricity. Solar power, another renewable energy source, has challenges of its own, such as efficiency in a province where for much fo the year, the sun is at a low angle.

Michal Moore is a Professor of Energy Eonomics at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. He was also a commissioner of the California Energy Commission. He says getting renewable sources to power 30% of Alberta's grid is a good, but difficult, goal.

In California where I used to be a regulator, we went out and did a complete estimate looking at all the land we could get access to and be able to use for renewables and find out what's the best you could do... and the best we could ever imagine, if you fully committed to renewables was thirty percent. Then we backed off and said what's it realistically going to be, and the best we could come up with was eighteen percent. - Michal Moore, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary

Alberta's challenges are many — not only the challenges associated with phasing out coal, but with increasing renewable energy, reducing emissions from the oilsands, and dealing with the over-arching challenge, climate change.

However, as The 180's Matthew Lazin-Ryder learned, the key for Alberta to overcome these challenges, may be the Albertan mentality itself. Click the "play" button above to learn more!