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

Canada’s New Green Deal Can Learn Much From Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign

Climáximo: Climate Jobs Campaign

 

...We [Kevin Buckland  and  Joao Comargo] talked about the role of labor and unions in ecological transitions, how movements can engage with them, and what such collaborations could mean for making deep emissions cuts a reality.

Kevin: Hello Joao, first of all. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about Climáximo’s Climate Jobs Campaign, how it started and why you think it’s strategic?

Joao: No problem. We started this climate jobs campaign about 3 years ago. At that time we had some people coming over from the UK, where they were running a campaign there, they were based more on unions but we approached them not from a unions standpoint but as a Climate Justice Movement. We thought this could be strategically and politically very relevant because it opened up a series of new possibilities for strategic alliances around a very clear political program in which climate change can be framed not only as potential catastrophe apocalypse, but as a huge opportunity. This is partially how capitalism is framing climate change anyway, as a huge new opportunity to make profits on the collapse, anywhere from the lowering of standards on oil extraction or agricultural production, lowering the value of land for land grabs, and so on. But we want to use [this narrative] the other way around, saying: “This is the greatest challenge civilization has ever faced.” So when they say “If you want to save the climate it will destroy millions or billions of jobs!” we call bullshit and say “It means more jobs than ever!”.

Kevin: What do you see as the main difference to the approach Climáximo is taking with this narrative, in contrast to the climate narrative of capitalism?

Joao:  The main difference is the objective. The goal of these jobs will not be [just] the jobs in themselves – or the wages, but rather what these jobs produce. So we decided to put up the idea of jobs where the main objective is to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The main focus at the moment is mitigation, especially in the global north. In Portugal, we think the issue of mitigation is very important because there is already a more diversified energy mix than other EU countries. Although, it’s all private – the fossil fuels and the renewables and the hydropower. And then eventually we plan to work on adaptation as well, we need to imagine that whole cities will need to be moved 10 or 20 kilometers inland – that’s a lot of work!

Kevin: So in the context of looking beyond just the vague promise of ’jobs’ and towards what those jobs are producing. How do you differentiate between climate jobs and other ‘jobs’?

Joao: We define the main axis of how we define climate jobs – and this is a purely political decision – we would want them to be public or socially owned. (Though being run by the state does not automatically mean that it’s good). They would need to be new jobs, so it isn’t talking about putting a label on jobs that already exist. It has to effectively cut greenhouse gas emissions and would be dignified jobs, with a work contract – not precarious work or temp-agencies or any of these. The objective would be to effectively cut emissions and to prepare workers in the highest polluting emissions sectors to be in the frontline for new jobs. MORE

Five reasons why wind energy is Ontario’s best option for new electricity supply

There are five reasons why the Ontario government should turn to new wind energy to support affordability and lower future electricity bills.

Ontario’s new government is focused on finding efficiencies in the electricity sector that promote affordability and is also developing a new approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Here are five reasons why the province should turn to new wind energy to meet these goals.

  1. Wind energy is now the lowest-cost new electricity source.

Wind energy is the lowest-cost source of new electricity generation available to Ontario, other provinces, and globally. Alberta recently agreed to procure power from four wind generation projects at an average contract price of 3.7 cents per kilowatt hour – a price that is considerably below the cost of power generation in Ontario today. And, as other forms of energy increase in price, wind energy prices continue to fall. According to the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook 2017, the levelized cost of new electricity from onshore wind will drop 47 per cent by 2040.

Wind power has no fuel costs (the wind is free), and technological advances continue to increase capacity factors while lowering costs.

As for the misperception that wind energy has been a major contributor to Ontario electricity bills, see Wind energy and Ontario’s electricity prices – let’s destroy the myth.

  1. Wind energy provides significant economic benefits.

Ontario leads Canada in wind energy operations and wind energy supplies almost 8 per cent of the province’s electricity demand. The wind energy industry also provides many economic benefits to Ontario:

  1. Wind energy will be necessary if Ontario is to keep Ontario’s electricity supply reliable through the next decade.

Studies by Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator forecast a need for significant new electricity generation, especially from 2023 onwards, as the Pickering Nuclear station shuts down, other nuclear units are being refurbished, and generation contracts expire.

New wind energy would help keep Ontario’s electricity supply reliable, as well as more affordable. A study of Canada’s wind energy resources has shown that Canada can get more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy without compromising grid reliability. Other jurisdictions around the world are proving this – for example, Denmark now produces more than 44 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines on an annual basis, and in the U.S., four states now generate 30 per cent or more of their electricity using wind energy.

Wind energy is quick to construct, can be built to meet specific local needs, and can offer flexible power – especially when paired with energy storage, demand response programs, and/or other non-emitting and renewable energies such as hydro and solar.

MORE

Meygen tidal turbine powers on to world record

A TIDAL TURBINE array in the north of Scotland set a new world record for generating power and exporting it into the national grid.
The Meygen turbines
The Meygen turbines

Simec Atlantis Energy’s Meygen four turbine set-up in the Pentland Firth has generated 12 gigawatt(GW) hours of electricity since it was switched on last April – enough to power almost 9,000 homes.

This beats a previous record set by Seagen in Strangford Lough, an inlet in County Down, Northern Ireland.

Simec Atlantis Energy’s Chief Executive Tim Cornelius broke the news to staff, saying: “Meygen has now exported more than 12GWh of tidal energy to the grid in Scotland, surpassing the previous record held by SeaGen in Strangford Lough (11.6 GWh). “Congratulations to all involved. Onwards.” MORE

RELATED:

Tidal power and wave energy can create up to 30,000 jobs

Opinion: Fact-checking Alberta’s pipeline ads


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley unveils an ad they will be running in B.C. about the pipeline expansion in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, May 10, 2018. JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

As an Alberta-born-and-raised earth scientist who has made a career studying fossil fuels and energy issues, I am dismayed at the bombardment of ads from the Alberta government on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

One ad tells us:

“Canada’s economy loses out on an estimated $80 million dollars in economic benefits every day that the expansion is delayed. Trans Mountain changes that, providing an $80 million-a-day economic boost to our country, supporting thousands of jobs from coast to coast to coast.”

Every day? In fact, the earliest Trans Mountain could be completed is 2022. Two other pipelines under development, Enbridge’s Line 3 (due in late 2019) and Keystone XL (due in 2021) will provide twice the export capacity of Trans Mountain to higher-priced U.S. markets. Trans Mountain is intended to unlock new Asian markets.

The Trans Mountain delay is costing Canada nothing given that pipeline bottlenecks will be eliminated without it. Yet, a counter on the Alberta government’s Keep Canada Working website shows that (as of Feb. 15) the court-ordered shutdown has cost Canada $13.5 billion.

The differential between Alberta heavy oil (Western Canada Select/WCS) and the North American price (West Texas Intermediate/WTI) is normally about $15 per barrel. This is because WCS is priced at Hardisty and incurs a transportation cost of $7 via pipeline to Cushing, Okla., where WTI is priced. And because WCS is lower grade oil than WTI, it incurs a further quality discount of about $8 per barrel as it is costlier to refine. MORE