As Alberta’s newly sworn Premier Jim Prentice takes command of a province fuelled almost entirely by oil and gas, a recent survey tells him Albertans want more wind energy and other renewables powering their homes and industries.
Nanos Research was engaged by the Canadian Wind Energy Association to examine the views of Albertans on a wide range of energy issues, including the various forms of electricity generation.
It was no surprise to find Albertans, like other Canadians across the country, are engaged in energy issues in general, and have clear opinions on how electricity should be generated.
What surprised us was the breadth and depth of public opinion favouring renewable energy alternatives such as wind and solar for electrical generation in a province powered almost entirely by gas and coal.
Almost 80 per cent of those surveyed this summer say the Government of Alberta has not done enough to develop wind power and other renewable forms of large-scale electricity generation.
Asked how a new Alberta premier could best demonstrate environmental leadership, survey respondents most commonly recommend increasing the province’s supply of renewable energy sources.
Wind is currently the largest source of renewable electricity in Alberta, and the survey found just over 70 per cent of Albertans see it as an abundant, environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to help meet the province’s growing electricity needs.
Those with positive views of wind energy also tend to be enthusiastic about it – in our survey, wind garnered the largest number of overall “most favourable” ratings among all Alberta electricity sources, followed closely by hydro-electric, and well ahead of natural gas and coal.
Wind ranked ahead of Alberta’s other main energy sources – hydro, gas and coal – on both the environment and safety.
In terms of keeping electricity prices down, respondents saw virtually no difference among wind, natural gas and hydro power. Coal actually scored a little better than the others on this question.
It’s not that Albertans are turning their backs on the petroleum industry. Far from it.
Our research shows 78 per cent have an overall favourable impression of power plants fuelled by natural gas, a rate of public approval just marginally ahead of wind and hydroelectric generation. The caveat is that much of the popularity of natural gas for generating electricity in Alberta appears to be as an alternative to the province’s less popular coal-fired power plants.
In our survey, Albertans have the poorest perceptions of coal among all sources of electrical power generation in every category of questions we asked except cost.
Albertans’ enthusiasm for wind power and other renewables may pose a significant challenge for Alberta’s new premier and his policy-makers on the energy file.
According to statistics from the Alberta Utilities Commission, just over half of the province’s total electricity generation in 2012 was from burning coal, with another 37 per cent from natural gas.
In total, that means almost 90 per cent of the province’s electricity is coming from burning fossil fuels.
Our survey suggests Albertans at the very least want future power developments to be green, telling us they think improving air quality and lowering greenhouse gas emissions should be the most important factors when considering new energy projects.
Notably, the most mentioned way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to build more wind-energy facilities.
In the meantime, our survey indicates Albertans are looking to government for energy leadership.
As Albertans welcome their new premier to office, the greening of province’s power grid may be one of the most important files on his desk.
Nik Nanos is the chairman of Nanos Research and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. specializing in energy policy.