My Prediction: Alberta will be completely off coal by the end of 2023

How the province is becoming Canada’s green energy leader 

Dan Balaban
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(Photograph courtesy of Greengate Power)

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” guide. Read more predictions for 2023 here.

Dan Balaban is the CEO of Greengate Power.

When it comes to energy production, our country is at a crossroads. The climate crisis is becoming increasingly urgent: global warming could be irreversible by 2030, we’re losing species at up to 10,000 times the normal rate, and by 2050 as many as 200 million people could be displaced by climate-related disasters. Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions, like the war between Russia and Ukraine, is putting global energy security at risk. We’re still importing oil from foreign countries—sometimes from hostile governments—and that doesn’t make sense to me. As a country, we produce enough energy to not only cover our needs, but a good chunk of the U.S.A.’s too. All Canadians should be consuming Canadian-
produced energy. Our federal government has set an ambitious climate target: establish a net-zero grid by 2035, which will in turn support our energy security. Billions of dollars of investment are flowing into the renewables sector—but we need tens of billions of dollars of investment, and we need it every year.

The province with the largest investment in green energy is the place you’d least expect: Alberta, the heart of oil country. My company, Greengate Power, has been at the forefront. I started it with my brother Jordan 15 years ago. Neither of us had experience in power generation, but we wanted to prove that large-scale renewable energy projects could work in Alberta. Ten years ago, we developed Blackspring Ridge, in Vulcan County, Alberta, which at the time was the largest wind project in the country. That project can produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity—the same amount of energy it takes to power 125,000 homes annually. Renewable energy projects provide significant revenues to the municipalities that host them—in this case, it’s millions of dollars per year. In 2017, we began developing Travers Solar: the largest solar energy project in Canada, which can produce up to 465 megawatts of energy. It consists of 1.3 million solar panels spread out over 3,000 acres of farmland in southern Alberta, and produces enough energy to power more than 150,000 homes. It came online in 2022.

Solar has been deployed all over the world for decades—in the deserts of the United States, in the Middle East, China and India—but until recently it hadn’t yet come to Canada on a large scale. People ask: “What do you do about snow? Is it financially feasible?” It turns out solar works better in relatively cool climates, provided there’s enough sun. Travers’s technology tracks the sun throughout the day, tilting and dumping off snow if necessary. Solar panels can now produce energy from light that reflects off snow. And Alberta has more than 300 days of sunshine a year, so it’s a great place for solar.

In general, Alberta is a really good place to do business. We have a well-structured regulatory environment and stringent greenhouse gas regulations. Earlier on in Greengate’s history, we pushed, along with a number of others, for the decarbonization of Alberta’s electricity grid. Many incumbent power generators in this province were reluctant to make the transition. But Alberta is now planning to be completely off coal by the end of 2023, replacing it with a combination of natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive, and a lot more renewables. This is driven in large part by Alberta’s strong carbon pricing on the largest emitters.

We’re seeing a lot of investment in Alberta right now in both wind and solar. As of last year, four new renewables projects, originally developed by Greengate, were under construction and will soon be supplying electricity into the grid. We’ll need many more of these projects across the country if we’re going to meet our 2035 targets. Canadian policies must stay in step with measures taken in the U.S. with their Inflation Reduction Act. The energy discussion has become much too polarized in this country—it’s been framed as fossil fuels versus renewables. What’s going on in Alberta is a great example of how we can drive prosperity on both fronts.

We’re dealing with an urgent situation—2035 is only 12 years away. We’re facing serious challenges ahead, and it’s time to pick up the pace to overcome them. 

As Told To Liza Agrba

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” guide. Read more predictions for 2023 here.

This article appears in print in the December 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $9.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.