A just transition to new energy sources is possible and Alberta can be a leader, a report from the non-partisan Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta said Wednesday.
Titled Alberta’s Coal Phase-Out: A Just Transition?, the report uses Parkland County as a case study to argue that Alberta’s accelerated phase-out of coal-fired electricity can be a blueprint for jurisdictions around the world seeking to transition to cleaner energy sources in the face of an ongoing climate crisis.
A just transition means one in which extractive resource workers do not shoulder an unfair proportion of the costs of shifting to cleaner energy sources.
“It is possible to take action on climate and create a lot of economic activity as well as new job creation,” said Ian Hussey, research manager at the institute who co-authored the report with Emma Jackson.
The report details that through concerted government action and funding — $45 million from the province and $84 from the federal government — there will be little coal-fired electricity in the province at all by 2023, six years ahead of schedule.
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Alberta’s transition away from coal-fired electricity in 2015 — which then accounted for more than 50 per cent of the province’s installed capacity — was a hallmark of the former NDP government’s efforts on climate change.
By 2029, 14 of the province’s 18 facilities will be transitioned to natural gas, reducing sector emissions from 45.2 megatonnes in 2016 to 25 in 2030.
“Communities and workers that worked in the coal power industry are going to be affected for years,” said Hussey. “And they need some support from the provincial and federal government to transition to new jobs or to transition to having other economic sectors active in local communities.”
With 2,890 estimated lay-offs in coal mining and related power jobs by 2029, Hussey said funding for affected workers and communities, such as in Parkland County, where infrastructure projects helped create long-lasting jobs, is essential to ensuring continued job security and community well-being.
“These are the industries of the future where there’s going to continue to be job growth in the coming years,” said Hussey.
The programs also make business sense for three major affected companies — ATCO, TransAlta and Capital Power — and the provincial government as it considers which sectors to invest in for job creation and economic growth.
“If (the UCP) are really concerned about costs (and) creating jobs, there are jobs to be created in renewable energy, and it actually costs the government and consumers less than promoting gas or coal power,” said Hussey.
Now that a new government is in place, Hussey says the transition is unlikely to be reversed now that “the train left the station.” But the disappearance of multiple economic diversification initiatives under the UCP, he said, means momentum on that front is slowing down when jobs in renewable sectors could be heating up.
“The lesson is that transitions like these don’t happen overnight,” said Hussey. “There’s a substantial emphasis on the need for public sector leadership during an energy transition.”