Alberta needs billions more to invest in energy transition: study

A pedestrian wearing a mask walks through an empty downtown Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020,. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta has nearly all the ingredients to lead the energy transition around the world, adding tens of billions to GDP and tens of thousands of new jobs, according to a new study. But the province is facing internal and external challenges in the face of a closing window.

Business-as-usual projections show the province’s economy could grow by $4 billion and 20,000 jobs by 2050. If increased focus is given to cleantech, $61 billion in GDP growth and 170,000 new jobs could be created.

That focus would require capital investments. The study’s analysis estimates a path to net zero would need $2.1 billion in annual investments by 2030, increasing to $5.5 billion by 2040.

The study was commissioned for Calgary Economic Development and Edmonton Global.

Story continues below advertisement

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the study was clear reason for governments to further enable work in clean and decarbonizing technologies such as carbon capture, hydrogen, electrification, digitalization and ag-tech.

“When we can exponentially increase the number of jobs and GDP, why wouldn’t we focus on this?” she said. “So for me, this is really the ability to take some empirical evidence to other orders of government as well as capital markets and say, ‘Please come to Calgary, we have opportunity for you. And this is what we can do in terms of energy transformation, if you invest in us.’”

A previous study showed every dollar of capital investment in cleantech would yield $2.90 in GDP in 2020, tapering down to $2.54 by 2030.

The report said the existing policy and regulatory environment – and a lack of consistency in those areas – are threats to the entire cleantech ecosystem.

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s mayor and Alberta’s energy minister promoting province’s energy sector on global scale'
Calgary’s mayor and Alberta’s energy minister promoting province’s energy sector on global scale

“From a policy standpoint, there is no unified or clear policy directives towards an overarching net zero or decarbonization target, resulting in the continued fragmentation of Alberta’s cleantech and action toward net zero,” the report reads. “Policy uncertainty (e.g., Energy Efficiency Alberta cancellation, coal phase-out hesitation) and cancellation of investment mechanisms (such as Investor Tax Credits) with changes in provincial or federal government are contributing to an uncertain investment environment.”

Story continues below advertisement

CED interim president and CEO Brad Parry said he had not received any feedback from the provincial government by midday Tuesday.

“It’s an important document that I think we do need to have alignment across all levels (of government) to make this work,” he said.

The study looked at existing cleantech companies in the province.

Click to play video: 'Alberta predicts smaller $5.8B deficit because of rising energy prices'
Alberta predicts smaller $5.8B deficit because of rising energy prices

It noted that of the 945 companies included in the study, 462 were headquartered in Calgary and 429 in the Edmonton metro region.

Edmonton’s strengths lay in AI and machine learning, research ecosystem, and the existing manufacturing hub that features a hub for hydrogen and carbon capture, utilization and sequestration.

Story continues below advertisement

Calgary’s innovation culture and existing cohort of high-tech and STEM workers, along with a high number of head offices per capita, makes it attractive for cleantech development. The southern city’s ag-tech expertise with nearby post-secondary research was also highlighted.

But both the report and Calgary’s mayor are not looking to bring in past rivalries to address this challenge of decarbonization.

“In my experience with other mayors across Alberta, there’s a great interest in making sure that we’re creating strong corridors where we can leverage off of each other’s strengths,” Gondek said, noting the mayors of Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge have all expressed interest in collaboration.

“They’re all very interested in seeing what we can do from regional perspectives.”

Click to play video: 'Is hydrogen the path forward for Alberta?'
Is hydrogen the path forward for Alberta?

Speaking from the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, Gondek said the idea of a collaborative approach to net zero is also present among industry.

Story continues below advertisement

“One of the common themes that I’ve heard in the sessions we’ve attended today, from companies like Repsol and other major players, is that the time for competitiveness between companies has to be put aside. It’s time for collaboration,” the mayor said.

With more and more international industries and governments getting on board with net-zero goals, there is the possibility that Alberta’s potential could go untapped if action isn’t taken.

“I don’t think anyone’s gonna eat our lunch on this,” Parry said. “Not only do we have the right pieces in place, now we have the right attitude. And we have the desire to make this happen.”

Sponsored content