The 180

From oil and gas in Calgary to a self-sustaining home on the prairie

Glen and Dawn Kinney spent their lives in Calgary, working in the oil and gas sector and raising their family. Now they live in a self-sufficient home in rural Alberta. We talk to the Kinneys about their transition, and what the rest of the province can learn from them about change.
Glen and Dawn Kinney show off their property in southern Alberta. The couple has built a self-sufficient home, called an Earthship, and moved there from Calgary. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

After three decades of working in oil and gas, Glen Kinney lost his job. It hurt. 

"I thought I had lots to contribute for a few more years, and obviously my opinion wasn't the same as someone else's."

He spent a few months trying to find a new job, but he had no luck. Once it became clear there were no other jobs to be found, the layoff gave him a chance to get back to his roots. 

Glen grew up on a farm in B.C., but his adult life had been spent in Calgary, raising his six children and menagerie of pets with his wife Dawn, who also worked in oil and gas. A few years ago, with encouragement from one of his sons, Glen decided to fulfil a dream, and build an Earthship

Glen and Dawn didn't plan to make a permanent move to the house right away, but after the layoff, they packed up and left Calgary. 

The Kinney Earthship from the outside. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

"We weren't exactly planning on the timeline that happened to us, but with the layoffs coming, we decided, there's not much left in Calgary right now," says Glen.

"No one's hiring, there's just a bunch of fear there, so we might as well get down and do something that we'd talked about doing for a long time."

So they moved into their Earthship, approximately 200 kilometres southeast of Calgary. The home is nestled in a coulee along the Little Bow River, with big windows on one side, and a dirt wall on the other. Cisterns collect rain and snow for water, and solar panels collect energy. They grow tomatoes and cucumbers, and spend weekends at local auctions, buying chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats, to round out their farm.

The front of the building serves as a greenhouse, and doubles as a hallway. The living space is behind (to the right, in this photo). (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

A time of transition 

The Kinneys believe that, like them, Alberta is adaptable. Not only have they adapted to life on the "bald-ass prairie," as Dawn calls it, but they have adapted to life in rural communities. These days they eat omelettes every day to use many of their eggs as they can, and they spend time in farming communities, where their neighbours are more conservative than in their progressive hometown of Calgary. But just as they are adapting, they have faith that their neighbours and government can too. 

"[Alberta] adapted to exploiting the oil and gas potential quickly, when it became obvious that was going to be growth, and I think the same thing will happen with renewables," says Dawn.

"I have every confidence in an Albertan's ability to adapt to a changing world. I think it's part of the homesteading ethic, that began several hundred years ago, and I don't think it's really changed." 

Click the blue button above to hear the Kinneys in conversation with The 180's Kathryn Marlow.