After oil and gas: Meet Alberta workers making the switch to solar

Alberta’s oil and gas workers can be underrepresented — or even maligned — in conversations about an energy transition in Canada. The Narwhal met with three former oil and gas workers to learn more about their lives and personal reasons for transitioning to solar

Brandon Sandmaier solar Generate Energy

The oil and gas industry has long been a mainstay for young people — especially men — looking for work in Alberta, and Dustin Taylor was one of them.

Taylor was born in Nova Scotia, where his dad worked on an offshore oil rig. He moved to Alberta as a kid, and found himself in yet another province heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry.

“I left school before I graduated and pretty much started working right off the hop,” he said. “And, like most people in Alberta, I ended up working in the energy industry — working in oil and gas, making decent money.”

He started working in oil and gas when he was 16, without finishing high school.

At his first job, he made $60,000 a year. In the years that followed, he made a lot of money. He partied. He didn’t vote. He didn’t care much about politics.

Something started to change for Taylor as the years went on in the oil patch. He remembers the 2010 BP oil spill as a pivotal moment in his thinking.

“It was plastered all over the news for days, and I watched this giant catastrophe just unfold in front of our eyes for days on end,” he said.

It was, he remembers, “a heartbreaking moment.”

Fast-forward several years, and Taylor is one of thousands of solar workers in Alberta — and one of many who has transitioned out of the fossil fuel sector into renewable energy.

Taylor is one of the workers The Narwhal came across when we started asking questions about the fledgling idea of an energy transition in Alberta. We wanted to know how switching careers, and industries, has impacted workers’ lives.

Switching careers comes with challenges, such as reduced pay, learning new skills or possible relocation. Labour advocates are adamant that governments need to be planning for an energy transition — and the implications it holds for thousands of workers in the province.

“We need to ensure that the pace of our sustainable energy development is on track to meet climate targets and help ensure the world can reach net zero by 2050,” Lliam Hildebrand of Iron & Earth, an oilsands-worker led group pushing for retraining in renewables, told The Narwhal. “We’re not on track for that right now.”

“If we were, there would be a lot more jobs.” MORE

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