On December 11, 2008 the Province of Alberta released its energy strategy Launching Alberta's Energy Future (the Energy Strategy)1. The Energy Strategy discussed the provincial government's plans for the future development of the energy industry and incorporated a number of goals that the province has set. Two such goals are to incorporate clean energy into provincial energy production and to change energy consumption behaviour in the province as part of an overall strategy. Although the province expressed an intention to incorporate more forms of green energy as part of its long term plan, it also stressed the important role that Alberta's current energy economy plays in the province and as part of Canada's economy as a whole. Although the report attempts to set the record straight with respect to criticisms surrounding issues of environmental sustainability and climate change, it is admittedly short on details as to how the province will implement its strategy.
The three main outcomes the province is seeking to achieve as part of its energy future are: 1) clean energy production, 2) wise energy use, and 3) sustained economic prosperity. Consequently, the Energy Strategy begins with a discussion of the diversity of resources available in Alberta, including Alberta's natural gas, conventional oil, bitumen and coal and the important role they play in the economies of both Alberta and Canada. Although the Energy Strategy includes a discussion of the importance of development of alternative sources of energy such as wind power, solar power, and biomass, it clearly states that Alberta's future will remain heavily reliant on the production of its plentiful, and generally hydrocarbon-based, natural resources.
Challenges Facing Alberta's Energy Industry
The Energy Strategy also identifies some of the main challenges that the province and the energy industry will face in the future. These include issues surrounding climate change, the emergence of global markets, technology, labour shortages, energy use and conservation, and awareness and understanding of Alberta's energy industry as a whole. With respect to climate change, the Energy Strategy notes that although, Alberta has made some reductions in emissions intensity, greenhouse gas emissions will remain tied to energy production. As demand is not likely to decrease in the near future, the province acknowledges that emissions reductions must come from the development of cleaner forms of production. It also confirms the experience of many in Alberta that energy markets are beginning to open globally for Alberta in places like China and India. The province wants to ensure that Alberta is well positioned to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise to expand its markets internationally.
Alberta's Position on Renewable Energy
Alberta did address the need for more clean energy production in the province. It stated that the continued development of renewable energy sources will assist in reducing the province's greenhouse gas emissions. Production of these renewable resources would be expected to "enhance Alberta's diversity of energy supply, stimulate regional activity, and fortify collaboration across industry sectors."2 However, readers are reminded that global and local demand will not be met by renewable energy alone and, therefore, the demand for Alberta's non-renewable resources will remain strong.
The Energy Strategy noted that Alberta already has "almost three times the national average of electricity generation capacity from wind power."3 It also states that by 2030, "the world is expected to be consuming more than 50% more energy than it consumes today"4 and that many experts expect that the supply to meet that demand will be derived largely from fossil fuels. It reiterates the province's intention to invest in and foster the development and implementation of new forms of technology and processes that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions including the utilization of gasification technology and carbon capture and storage to improve emissions intensity within the province. Alberta intends to work with the federal government to ensure that any climate change regime that is implemented in the future will not negatively affect the development of Alberta's energy. Alberta is wary of any mitigation measures that will result in a redistribution of Alberta's wealth or that will negatively affect Alberta's competitiveness at home or abroad, such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.
The province stated that it will apply energy and environmental technological leadership to other environmental issues confronting fossil fuel development, such as water consumption and tailings pond management. It also intends to provide incentives for cleaner industry behaviour by maintaining the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. The province suggests that changes to regulations may be required to account for the pricing of carbon emissions for large emitters that may evolve over time. It has also expressed its intention to implement a renewable fuel standard that will be consistent with similar initiatives in other jurisdictions within Canada.
How does the Province Plan to Accomplish its Goals?
The province expressed its commitment to encourage further development and provide a market for renewable energy. It also intends to research and explore the possibility of nuclear power development and engage the public as to its feasibility in Alberta. The province intends to manage the environmental footprint of the energy industry by managing and monitoring the cumulative effects of the energy industry on a regional basis. This was also expressed in the province's recently released Land-Use Framework, released on December 10, 2008. It notes that a large measure of the Energy Strategy going forward will incorporate philosophies of conservation and energy efficiency.
Albertans are encouraged to become more mindful of their individual and collective energy use and develop a culture of energy conservation. The steps the government intends to implement include improvements to measurements of consumption, the "greening-up" of transit, improvements to building designs to ensure a smaller environmental footprint, and improvements to urban planning that will allow for increased density within Alberta's cities and towns.
The Energy Strategy is filled with a 'wish list' that addresses the many issues facing Alberta's energy industry. It seems clear that Alberta intends to continue to maximize its energy production to meet local and international demands while implementing technological improvements where possible. It is committed to advancing Alberta's position locally and globally as a leader in technological advances in areas of unconventional gas development, water use efficiency, groundwater protection and beneficial re-use, water storage, tailings pond management/use, and integrated resource management. It acknowledges that it is unrealistic for Alberta to become a master of all matters of energy research and, therefore, will monitor international developments.