Robert Dixon is beginning a new career in renewable energy. The Lethbridge College student is studying to become a wind turbine technician and already has employment lined up.
“It just seems like a great opportunity. It seems like more and more (turbines) are being manufactured and put up at different site locations,” Dixon said.
Alberta has plenty of opportunities in wind power right now. Thanks to a provincial government subsidy program, 18 new wind power projects are currently under construction.
“There’s definitely upwards of 1,000 jobs during construction. Once construction falls off, you’re looking at one technician for five or six turbines so you’ve got 30 new positions in Alberta this year alone,” said Chris DeLisle, an instructor with the wind turbine technician program at Lethbridge College.
Alberta’s NDP government set up its renewable energy subsidy program as a way to get the province to its 30 per cent renewable power target by 2030 while transitioning away from coal. The problem, says University of Calgary economist Harrie Vredenburg, is that wind power is much more expensive than natural gas.
“Renewables are difficult to a make a go of with the low price of alternative forms of generation,” said Vredenburg. “We learned the lesson in Europe: Germany and others had very high subsidies, and when they dropped those, it killed the renewable industry.”
When it comes to climate policies, the United Conservatives and the New Democrats are miles apart. In its 2019 election platform, the Alberta NDP vows to continue phasing out coal generation and maintain a cap on oilsands carbon emissions. Meanwhile, UCP Leader Jason Kenney says he would honour existing contracts if elected but that there would be no new subsidies for renewable energy under his government.
“Embedding big subsidies for unreliable forms of power production means the consumers need to pay higher prices,” Kenney said during an interview with Global News.
“We will respect the contracts to date and we hope that in the future, there can be a growing share of electricity produced by wind and solar, but it will have to happen on a market basis, not with taxpayer subsidies.”
The UCP has also campaigned heavily on a promise to scrap Alberta’s carbon tax, but Vredenburg says the reality is that many Alberta jobs depend on having some kind of carbon policy in place. For one, the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion disappears if carbon policies are cut.
“The commitment that the federal government has made is that the pipeline comes together with carbon policy. Alberta picking a fight with Ottawa over carbon policy won’t help this initiative,” Vredenburg said.