Against the backdrop of Alberta’s newest solar farm, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said Tuesday he still believes the province can drive its power grid to net zero by 2035, despite insistence from Prime Minister Danielle Smith to the contrary.
Wilkinson made the remarks in Starland County near Drumheller, Alta., in front of the thousands of gleaming solar panels that make up the latest solar project to be connected to the province’s power grid.
“The view of the federal government is that it can be done,” Wilkinson said, moments after renewable energy company Capstone Infrastructure formally cut the ribbon on its 25 MW Michichi solar project, which will produce enough renewable energy to offset roughly 30,000 tons CO2 metrics each. year.
“But we also have to be willing to listen to the concerns of Alberta and Saskatchewan and try to find ways to address those concerns, and ideally address them by the 2035 timeframe.”
As part of its broad climate goals, the federal government plans to soon publish a draft of its long-promised clean electricity regulations, which will aim to ensure Canada’s power grid is a net zero emitter of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
Canada’s current power grid is more than 80 percent emission-free, and in provinces with large amounts of hydroelectric generating capacity, decarbonization over the next decade is feasible.
But while Alberta has committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the province’s lack of hydroelectricity and heavy reliance on natural gas for power generation means its grid faces steeper transition challenges than many. other jurisdictions.
Saskatchewan has also said that the 2035 time frame is unachievable and has said its goal will be to achieve net-zero electricity grid by 2050.
On Monday, Smith reiterated his administration’s belief that any federal power regulation that is “overly aggressive” would infringe the province’s constitutional authority over its natural resources.
“We’re just not going to do anything to hurt our economy or do anything to indicate that our oil and gas sector will be phased out,” the prime minister said at a Stampede breakfast in Calgary.
However, Wilkinson said Tuesday that by agreeing to Alberta’s proposal to form a bilateral working group, Ottawa shows that it is willing to listen to the province’s concerns.
The task force, which Wilkinson said will be made up of “high-level people from both sides,” will aim to come up with some kind of federal-provincial alignment on emissions reductions, including the issue of greening the power grid. .
Wilkinson noted that not too long ago, Alberta relied heavily on coal for electricity. He said the fact that the province is now scheduled to go completely coal-free next year is a huge achievement.
The province is also in the midst of a boom in wind and solar development. Alberta is now home to more than 3,800 megawatts of wind and solar capacity, and last year forecaster Rystad Energy predicted that the province would lead the country in total installed utility-scale wind and solar power by mid-decade.
Still, at this point, more than 70 percent of the province’s total electricity generation capacity is non-renewable. Wilkinson said his government understands that wind and solar power will only get Alberta so far.
“For Saskatchewan and Alberta, I would say carbon sequestration natural gas will continue to be part of the conversation,” he said.
“And small modular reactors and nuclear power, understanding that it will take some time, will also be part of the reality.”
Wilkinson said the task force’s goal will be to determine what technical and financial barriers exist to getting to net zero in Alberta, and how the federal government can help.
While he said Ottawa has already made significant financial commitments, it may be willing to do even more to get provinces there.
“I would say the federal government has to be open to that conversation,” he said, adding that the most recent federal budget included funds for an investment tax credit for power generation and interprovincial transmission.
“The reason we did that is we saw the scale of the challenge, and our view was that it was beyond the fiscal capacity of any of the provinces in terms of what will be required over the next few decades,” Wilkinson said.
“So we have put money on the table for those provinces that are willing to engage in that conversation. We may need to do more.”
In an interview at the solar site Tuesday, Capstone Infrastructure CEO David Eva said he also believes net-zero electricity is possible for Alberta by 2035.
He said that in the span of a few years, the cost of solar technology has dropped so much that it is now cheaper than fossil fuel generation, and many of Alberta’s traditional oil and gas companies are signing purchase agreements with renewable energy companies for their own electricity needs.
“I think (net-zero) is possible,” Eva said.
“It’s challenging, but at the rate we’re going, as long as we invest in the network to enable these projects to connect, and continue to see support from all levels of government… I’m very confident we’ll get there.”