Hicks on Biz: The great renewable energy gamble BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, JULY 08, 2016
Since being elected in May of 2015, the New Democratic government of Alberta has done exactly as it said it would do.
With determination born of quasi-religious conviction, it has sturdily marched to the front lines of the global climate-change battle.
Never mind that Canada is not the culprit, that our carbon/methane emissions do not move the needle globally. This government has decreed that coal must go, gas is an ass and oil a necessary evil, to be tolerated until it can, in the distant future, finally be banned.
In a perfect New Democrat/Greenpeace world, all energy will be renewable, powered from running water, wind and sunlight. Albertans will magically maintain their post-carbon standard of living by growing organic vegetables, inventing and manufacturing alternative energy products.
Just one minor detail: These policies will effectively bankrupt Alberta. The looming new carbon tax, soon-to-come soaring electricity costs and the indifference to the decline of the once-mighty oil/gas/coal sector is about to suck enormous amounts of money out of the provincial economy. This government hasn’t the vaguest notion of how such economic activity – so vital to our well being - will be replaced.
Even worse: None of this needs to happen.
Alberta is a world leader in producing low-emission fossil fuels that will not harm the environment.
Carbon capture and storage is a reality. At the Shell Scotford refinery now, and at the Sturgeon Refinery once built, carbon produced from refinery operations is being collected, pressurized and transported by pipeline to deep, underground burial sites. The same process could be used for 100% carbon capture from ALL of Alberta’s coal, gas, oil refining, oilsands processing and petrochemical plants.
Building out a province-wide carbon-capture infrastructure will be expensive, but it’s a pittance compared to the economic consequences of a slow, steady decline in the production and processing of oil, gas and coal.
The wealth generation and job benefits of building and operating wind and solar energy projects in Alberta cannot possibly compensate for job losses in the oil, gas and coal industries.
The 958 wind turbines operating in the province in 2015 are nowhere near the critical mass needed for manufacturers to set up shop here
Wind farms create economic activity and jobs when they are being built, but, once operating, each wind farm needs no more than two or three operators. The number of turbines and wind farms could triple or quadruple as the price of electricity goes up, but all the components will still be imported and, once built, they will employ maybe 500 operators. Wind farms provide land-use rental income to rural land owners, and pay property taxes to municipalities.
Such benefits are a tiny fraction of the economic activity produced by oil, gas and coal. In the words of Robert Hornung, President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association: “Wind power cannot substitute for oil and gas in its economic impact.”
Solar panels on commercial and residential buildings have now reached the point – hurrah – of being cost-competitive with grid-supplied electricity. No subsidies are needed.
But nobody is making solar panels in Alberta, nobody is manufacturing solar components. In the current uncertain price environment, nobody is doing large-scale solar installations. The largest we have is a 20-acre solar farm on a Hutterite colony, producing two of the province’s 16,000 megawatt needs.
There’s activity on the “solutions” side – i.e. the business of importing, designing, installing and maintaining small-scale installations. “We’re in the very early days,” says solar expert Kyle Kasawski. “Investors can see solar energy coming. Some land assembly (for solar farms) and permitting is going on, but the investors are not ready to prioritize solar power in their portfolios.”
It’s all so much Alice-In-Wonderland logic.
The provincial government is plunging into billions of billions of dollars of debt just to deliver basic services, yet is committing billions more on the dubious economic proposition of renewable energy. At the same time we have endless amounts of clean-burning natural gas. We have the technology to capture all the carbon produced from the fossil-fuel engines that power our economy, i.e. the burning of coal, the processing of bitumen, the refining of oil.
Next week: The cost to Albertans of transitioning from coal to renewables.