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B.C.’s dirtiest
power source... Alberta

Seemingly imprisoned by its abundance of greenhouse gas-emitting resources, Alberta might be considered Canada’s environmental villain. But it’s a major source of B.C.’s electricity.

Coal-fired electricity — among the world’s worst producers of GHGs — supplies half of Alberta’s electricity needs. Natural gas, another local GHG-rich resource, supplies an additional 40 per cent. The rest comes from a combination of hydro and wind, with some biomass.

Although the B.C. Energy Plan calls for future self-sufficiency, we currently import our neighbour’s dirty power.
Yet B.C.’s energy resources are almost boundlessly green. Alberta’s, on the other hand, could be considered a mixed blessing.

During 2000 and 2001 electricity prices skyrocketed as people poured into the oil-rich province, pushing demand far beyond supply. At the same time, natural gas prices hit unprecedented levels, with unprecedented effects on electricity prices. Rates eventually dropped as companies created an oversupply through Canada’s largest-ever investment in electricity generation.

The investment mostly went to dirty power.

And it continues. One company plans to spend up to $1.5 billion by 2020 to lighten the GHG emissions from its coal-fired plants. The cost will be borne by consumers but, despite greenwashing to the contrary, no technology exists to effectively reduce coal plant CO2s. Another company plans to build a huge, 1,200 megawatt natural gas- and gas-from-coal-generating plant, which will pump out further emissions.

In addition, two nuclear reactors are proposed for the Peace River region, just 100 kilometres east of the B.C. border. If approved, around 70 per cent of their power will be used to replace a dwindling supply of natural gas that’s used for heavy oil extraction.

Yet for all that, even Alberta leads B.C. in wind energy. In fact Alberta once led the country in wind generation but lost its lead due to — guess what? — its reliance on coal.

Coal-fired electricity, unlike hydro, suffers from slow ramp-up and ramp-down times. Fluctuations in wind energy rely on another source of electricity to quickly pick up the slack. Hydro works, coal doesn’t.

For that reason, Alberta’s regulatory board has imposed a near-moratorium on new wind power development. Currently about four per cent of the province’s demand is met by wind, although even under the new restrictions the province’s wind supply could rise to around 10 per cent. Alberta also has enormous run-of-river hydro potential in the north.

But the province seems fixated on its own dirty power sources — coal- and natural gas-fired electricity. This is the stuff that B.C. imports.

As Alberta produces more electricity to meet greater demand,
pollution from coal mines and coal-fired plants takes a heavy toll on the environment and health. This is the dirty electricity that B.C. imports.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are exploring “clean coal” technologies
that critics say are unproven and uneconomical. If implemented,
these methods will use up to half as much electricity as they generate.