Alberta has the capacity to create over 20,000 jobs in the short run, and tens of thousands more long term by shifting its focus to a green economy, according to a new report from Albertan environmental groups and the Federation of Labour.
Greenpeace, Sierra Club Prairie and the Alberta Federation of Labour teamed up to release Green Jobs: It's time to build Alberta's future on April 22. The report suggests three areas where the Alberta government can immediately create jobs while beginning a green economy: retrofitting homes towards greater energy efficiency, building a high-speed light-rail transit corridor between Edmonton and Calgary and encouraging solar and wind power production by providing a feed-in tariff for green energy inputted to the grid.
"There's a different future for Alberta, one able to diversify and expand the economy while protecting our environment," said Mike Hudema, Greenpeace's tar sands campaigner. "The old ideology, of environment vs. economy, is dead. The ideology of the future says you have to have a strong environment to create a strong economy."
The Green Jobs report says a $2 billion government investment in home retrofitting would make 600,000 homes across the province more energy efficient while immediately creating 6,500-14,000 jobs over two years. Those new jobs would be focused on the construction industry, and timely given the fact that unemployment in the Alberta construction industry has increased 14 per cent over the past year, putting 22,000 construction workers out of work.
Alberta's Department of Employment and Immigration has not released a specific response to the report, but spokesperson Terry Jordan said the idea of building a green economy fits with Alberta's objectives.
"A green economy addresses environmental health and sustainability issues," Jordan said. "With advances in science and technology, a green economy uses cleaner and more renewable resources, decreases reliance on hydrocarbons, reduces energy consumption and increases efficiency. The next generation of environmental careers will help shape Alberta's future opportunities."
For the feed-in tariff idea, the report's authors took a cue from Ontario. In March 2009, Ontario became the first North American jurisdiction to attempt a feed-in tariff on renewable energy. Ontario's proposed plan involves implementing a guaranteed price of over 80 cents/kwh for individual rooftop solar production and roughly 44 cents/kwh for large-scale solar production, to encourage the development of renewable energy from a wide range of sources.
Although the Green Jobs report did not provide specific numbers about the cost of an Alberta feed-in tariff, Hudema suggested it would be similar to the Ontario rates.
Bob McManus, spokesperson for Alberta Energy, said the government does not subsidize any fuel source and has no plans to do so.
"If you look at what they're paying as a subsidy in Ontario, around 42 cents per kilowatt hour, that's a huge subsidy," he said. "When something's in its infancy, it might work, but if it gets popular there's a huge cost associated with that."
Hudema, however, believes an investment in renewable energy would be good for the future of Alberta, especially small northern communities like Fort Chipewyan.
"If we develop heavily in renewables through a feed-in tariff, there are huge benefits for small communities to control where they're getting energy," Hudema said. "There's tremendous potential for lifting communities off the grid, especially around the Fort McMurray area."
Slave Lake Journal, Tues May 12 2009
Byline: Shawn Bell